With the Minneapolis municipal election just three weeks, North High School hosted a spirited debate Tuesday night about whether or not the Minneapolis Police Department should be replaced by a new department of public safety.
The forum, hosted by the NAACP Minneapolis and The League of Women Voters Minneapolis, featured Yes 4 Minneapolis communications director JaNaé Bates, who argued in favor of the proposal, and peace activist Rev. Jerry McAfee with New Salem Missionary Baptist Church who voiced pointed concerns and criticisms.
"No one in their right mind would suggest that the largest problem in our community is what the police have done," McAfee told the crowd inside North High School auditorium. "Much of what is happening is what we've been doing at our own hands because of the lack of proper government intervention."
Rev. McAfee sharply criticized the Minneapolis City Council for what he referred to as "cosmetizing the corpse to camouflage the curse."
"You got 75 homicides, 400-some people shot, 8,700 shots fired and nothing has been done at all." he added. "You got young boys being ran down in the middle of the street because of a lawlessness mindset perpetrated after the murder of George Floyd when irresponsible people did not take responsibility and hold our people down."
In contrast, JaNaé Bates told the crowd that the wording on the ballot reflected a desire shared by every race, gender, and age within the city.
"They all want to be safe," Bates said. "Most certainly, the people of North Minneapolis, Black folks, want to be and feel safe in community. That's in both from in-community harm and from police brutality and police violence. What we know is that the current armed police response in Minneapolis is not working."
Bates urged the crowd to consider voting yes on the measure, which aims to pair qualified professionals with police officers.
"Like mental health professionals, violence interrupters, and people who are trained in substance abuse and homeless outreach and coordination," added Bates.
McAfee said that work is already underway in North Minneapolis when it comes to addressing violence. In May, McAfee helped organize 21 Days of Peace which resulted in 36 arrests and 16 recovered guns. That effort was in collaboration with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other law enforcement leaders.
"Right now you have everything in place that you need for change," McAfee said. "Rondo is in place, mayor is place, and the only thing that's out of place is the city council. That's why we can't trust them."
He then shared a concern about potentially losing Chief Arradondo, who McAfee sees as a key component to slowing down the violence.
"This vague, abstract thing can actually get rid of Rondo. Nothing in here says he's going to be around. So I'm saying after 30 years of being around here that now is not the time to backup and do something different."
Bates quickly responded that the police department needs direct community oversight provided by the city council.
"Your direct representation has no power or ability to say what should and shouldn't keep you save," Bates said. "We've seen that many times over when people don't know what the police department's doing."
Below is the language for City Question 2:
City Question 2
Department of Public Safety
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.