Neighbors and Police

 

The city of Minneapolis experienced another night of violence resulting in the 30th death from gun violence this year, and a 60 percent increase in shootings since 2019. I have no doubt that all stakeholders want a return to calmer days, as the city continues to figure out its path for achieving balance between the citizens, the city council, the mayor and the police.

The Minneapolis city council continues to adamantly pursue the concept of defunding and abolishing the police; even though their goal is a reconfiguration of safety forces and not an elimination. They are presently petitioning the charter commission to change the city’s structure which places the police uniquely under the control of the mayor.

City council members deny that the surge in violence is related to their ‘defund’ activity. Jeremiah Ellison, councilman for the 5th Ward, has doubled down  several times stating that the number of police officers on the payroll has been consistent through this surge. He observes that their inability to deter the present situation in fact supports the move to dismantle their services.

The local neighborhood association leaders do not appear to support this line of thinking. Several held a press conference yesterday.

“With these calls to abolish the police and no real substantive plan to follow, those words have led some folks in our communities to believe that they have a sort of open season on their enemies,” said Alicia Smith, the executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood.

Or,

“It’s time to stand up in this city,” said Lisa Clemons of A Mother’s Love. “It is time to tell council that utopia is a bunch of BS. We are not in Mayberry, we are in the wild, wild west.”

So what is  different? What accounts for a dramatic increase in crime despite having the same size police force, enabled by the same powers (excluding chokeholds)? Who are the other players? What is constraining the natural process of producing street safety?

The work of public safety involves the public it serves. Police officers are formally paid employees, hired to enforce the rules. But the politicians and local citizens all play a role. The death of George Floyd galvanized the notion that there have been two publics in the US defined by racial lines.

The larger public whose vote elects the mayor, has been perfectly happy with a strategy of keeping minority violence in minority neighborhoods; and has looked the other way if this required the use of excessive violence. For this reason, at least in part, the minority public views the police as a purveyor of violence instead of a protector of the peace.

So where the greater public interacts with their police force, the minority community does not. The greater community knows how to behave at routine stops, communicates information both on reporting incidents and providing testimony, and even depends on the police as a resource with their own families, if the situation so warrants. The minority community can show where they have been subject to violent outcomes at each of these steps, either by the police or from within their own community.

The constraints in the production of street safety stem from this lack of daily and routine relationships with the formal police workforce. The collective work that is required by the minority community has been priced at too great of an expense. These burdens need to be lifted, so that the labor necessary in the production of safety is engaged.

There is a sense that local politicians are playing a long game and feel this immediate lack of control on the streets is will be worth the long run reforms that they envision in a new public safety commission. Those who are living through these tragedies, however, want peace. Two days ago the shooting death of a pregnant woman, whose infant is still struggling for life at the hospital, seems to have been the last straw for the neighborhood.

The low hanging fruit appears to be with the police force. Led by an African American police chief, Medaria Arradando they are poised, now with this aperture, to develop the interaction that has lacked in the minority communities. Every neighborhood has the ability to produce street safety if the work that is needed gets done. Since there is a will amongst the neighbors, and a desire within the formaized force, I have confidence they will get there.

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