Minneapolis police reform coalition keeps pressure on mayor and state lawmakers
Minneapolis community members speak up against local officials' inaction on police reform at a press conference on June 22. From left: Pete Gamades of Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract; Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Nikima Levy-Armstrong of the Racial Justice Network, and Noah McCord, executive director of the Minnesota Disability Justice Network. | Wayne Nealis / PW

MINNEAPOLIS—Disgust and indignation sum up Minneapolis community leaders’ reaction to Mayor Jacob Frey’s latest move to address police crime and brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. At a press conference on the morning of Monday, June 22, they alleged the mayor’s action was designed to keep their voices out of the room where decisions will be made about reforming the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

Frey announced last week he would hand over the simmering conflict on police reform to the previous two-term mayor, R.T. Rybak, and a civic group that he heads, the Minneapolis Foundation, a decades-old organization that administers charitable funds. The move was met with outrage.

“During the time of Rybak…38 families lost loved ones to police killings. And not a single police officer, not a single police officer, has faced charges,” said Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). The group was one of eight that called the conference and is among the principle forces on the ground here fighting for justice for George Floyd and to end the racist police violence and harassment long tolerated by city leaders.

Speaking just outside the mayor’s office, former mayoral candidate Nekima Levy Armstrong of the Racial Justice Network sent a clear message to city officials: “Stop the political jockeying now. We are fed up. We want them to start listening to Black people.”

Rybak’s inaction to stop police crimes during his two terms, said Jess Sundin of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar Clark, means that “he carries on his shoulders the murder of all those killed under his administration.”

The frustration around city leaders’ long-term failure to stem police violence erupted in rage after the murder of George Floyd. Time and again, mayors and council members here have failed to stand up to entrenched police power.

Hussien called the history of city leaders’ inaction and their cozy relationship with the MPD evidence of “morally corrupted leadership.” Echoing the sentiment of other speakers, he said, “Today is where it ends. We will not allow failure again.”

Clearly, according to the groups, Rybak is not fit for the job, nor is the Minneapolis Foundation. Sundin decried Mayor Frey’s move, saying it amounted to turning over the problem to “a washed-up mayor and a foundation with no expertise.” He said the process needed to be one that is “owned by the community.”

Among the groups holding the press conference was Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), an organization with a 20-year record of expertise on police reform. Frey, however, chose to ignore the demands of CUAPB and other groups for the community to be at the table.

Representing CUAPB, Michelle Gross said her organization, in conversation with others, has proposed a list of 44 reforms, all of which could be made rather easily but have been ignored for years. The problem, she said, is that no mayor has stood up to the police federation. To Frey she said: “It is your failure when you can’t stand up to the police union.”

Pete Gamades represented the group Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract, which was formed a year ago to solicit community input into a new police contract. He said little changed in the contract under Rybak or during the term Frey served on the city council. His group’s experience during the past year, he said, showed that “every step of way, the public was removed from the process.”

The mayor’s decision to bring in the Minneapolis Foundation has left many confounded and is seen as flawed. It “has zero experience in police contracts and they have likely be brought in to fund the mayor’s approach as a way to circumvent the city council’s authority,” Gamades said.

Not unlike other police around the country, the Minneapolis Police Officers’ Federation’s contract gives officers advance notice of allegations made against them, allowing them time to discuss with other officers who might be involved in an incident and develop similar and consistent versions. Time and again, clauses like this as well as state laws give officers the ability to thwart investigations.

The spokespersons of the various organizations represented named what they said is the chronic nature of the problem: The police have failed the people of Minneapolis and no one is in control of them.

To press for action at the state level, this coalition of groups issued a call for a demonstration at the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Wednesday, June 24, at 4 p.m. They are also demanding another special session of the legislature be scheduled after the failure last week of legislators to take action on police reform.


CONTRIBUTOR

Wayne Nealis
Wayne Nealis

Wayne Nealis is a left political activist and writer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, focusing on communications and strategies for social change. He was a toolmaker and union activist in a Minnesota industrial union. Nealis earned a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and practiced journalism and public and media relations.

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