MINNEAPOLIS – When activists mobilized this summer to urge Minneapolis voters to replace their police department, one of the first prominent Democrats to criticize the plan was a moderate congresswoman who doesn’t even live in town.
Angie Craig stated that it is “short-sighted, misguided, and likely to harm the very communities it seeks to protect”. She warned it could oust the city’s popular black police chief.
Craig’s borough spans a suburban to rural and politically divided region south of the city, but their willingness to join the fight next door underscores the political threat that Democrats like Craig see in the proposal.
As a city that has become synonymous with police abuse grapples with police reform, efforts sharply divide Democrats along ideological lines. The state’s best-known progressives – US MP Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison – support the plan that would replace the police department with a new public safety division. Other top Democrats, including Senator Amy Klobuchar and Governor Tim Walz, are against it.
“When we talk about police reform, the overwhelming majority are in favor. If we say ‘defund’ we lose the argument, ”said Colin Strother, a Texas-based Democratic strategist. “Democrats who continue to use ‘defund the police’ are harming themselves and the cause, frankly.”
The proposed election, scheduled for November 2, asks voters if they would like to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety department that would take a “comprehensive approach to public health” that would “if necessary” police officers “ could include “. It does not use the word “defund,” and critics say this was a deliberate attempt by a majority of city council members to hide their goals.
Ellison, a strong proponent of the proposal, said in an interview that proponents of the amendment simply “want more public safety tools, more than just a police model. They want other people with expertise in mental health, housing, violence reduction and intervention “who are better trained to deal with situations that armed police officers now face alone.
But he is suspicious of the phrase “debilitating the police”, which he called “a cry for reform” and which comes from “young people who were utterly outraged about what happened to George Floyd”.
Ellison said he avoided using it, calling it “hot rhetoric, not a policy, not a program” that didn’t describe exactly what the change would do. And he downplayed the idea that Democrats should be afraid to support the amendment, saying Republicans would attack them no matter how the issue is phrased.
Minister JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition, said she was frustrated with the divisions among the Democrats. Those who portray the proposal as defusing the police are using “fear-based rhetoric” and a “right dog whistle” as a distraction, she said. The police will “certainly” be part of the proposed new agency, along with professionals trained in situations for which armed officers are unsuitable, she said.“The fact is that Democrats, progressives and liberals across the board want people to be safe, and that is exactly what this charter change is doing,” Bates said.
Omar, who represents Minneapolis, claims that the amendment is “nothing radical”. Radical, she said in an opinion piece published in the Star Tribune, is how opponents have fought to keep her away from voting and, in her opinion, misrepresent what she will do.
The election question has attracted big bucks, with glossy mailers popped up across town and ads filling social media feeds since shortly before the early voting began in early September.
The Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign raised over $ 1 million in cash and nearly $ 500,000 in donations in kind from across the country, according to campaign funding reports from August. His money included $ 500,000 in entry money from the Open Society Policy Center, which has ties to billionaire George Soros.
The group has stressed the need for change and sought to reassure voters that the new structure will make everyone safer. It has also denied proposals by opponents that the move would mean the departure of Medaria Arradondo, the city’s popular black chief, although Arradondo said the move would place any law enforcement leader in “an utterly intolerable position”.
The much newer All of Mpls, opposed to the change, raised more than $ 100,000 in the first few weeks, mostly locally. The uncertainty about how the proposed new department will work is being hyped as the amendment leaves it to the city council and the mayor to clarify the details within a short period of time after the election.
University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs attributed the Defund problem to helping Republicans hold their own in Minnesota legislative races in 2020 despite President Joe Biden winning nationwide. He said it was clear to Democrats that “defusing the police” for Republicans was effective then – and could be again.
US MP Nicole Malliotakis from New York flipped a seat in Staten Island in 2020 by running against the defunding of the police. Moderate Democrat Eric Adams, a former New York City Police Department captain, won the New York Mayor primary in July on a platform that opposed activists’ calls to defeat the police.
“If this happens, as many people think and assume, there will be a massive national setback, not just in Minnesota,” said Republican strategist Billy Grant, whose client includes Craig’s likely adversary, former Marine Tyler Kistner.
“People will say that they have shown that they can do it. That will have a domino effect. “