Seven City Council hopefuls and two mayoral candidates say in a local voter guide that they can envision a future Minneapolis with no police.
Asked, “Do you believe that we could ever have a city without police?” two mayoral candidates and two incumbents and five serious challengers running for City Council answered “yes.”
Those candidates, who responded to the question for a voter guide compiled by the nonprofit Voices for Racial Justice and published with Pollen Midwest and Rhymesayers Entertainment, said Wednesday they do not plan to eliminate the police department. Instead, several said, they were describing an ideal future in which inequality and racism are eliminated and government policy has solved many of the social problems now handled by police arresting and imprisoning people.
“It’s aspirational, but it’s way aspirational,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who said yes to the question. “We have a very long way to go before we would approach public safety without police.”
The voter guide, which asked 17 questions ranging from a candidate’s favorite album to one about transportation infrastructure, was an effort to engage new voters and get candidates to address matters important to a younger, more diverse crowd than the usual municipal electorate.
Designer and artist Ashley Fairbanks, who helped put the survey together, said the police question stems from the belief that the police system is rooted in white supremacy and therefore irredeemable.
“Police reform doesn’t actually work,” Fairbanks said. “We need to radically re-imagine what policing will look like in our community.”
Several candidates did not respond to the questionnaire. Those who did and said they believe “we could ever have a city without police” were Bender, Ninth Ward Council Member Alondra Cano; Phillipe Cunningham, who’s running for council in the Fourth Ward; Jeremiah Ellison, who’s running in the Fifth Ward; Janne Flisrand, who’s running in the Seventh Ward; Ginger Jentzen, who’s running in the Third Ward and Jeremy Schroeder, who’s running in the 11th Ward.
Council Member Jacob Frey, who is running for mayor, also said “yes” to the question, as did one other mayoral candidate, state Rep. Ray Dehn.
“While there is a hypothetical world in which police are not needed, we do not live in that world,” Frey said in his response to the survey.
Mayoral candidates Mayor Betsy Hodges, Nekima Levy-Pounds, Al Flowers and Aswar Rahman all said “no,” the city could never be without police. Tom Hoch did not respond to the questionnaire.
“The question wasn’t, ‘Do you promise to eliminate MPD by the end of your first term,’ it was ‘Can you imagine a city without police,’ ” said Cunningham, who’s running against Council President Barb Johnson, a 20-year incumbent. Johnson did not respond to the questionnaire.
Cunningham said a future Minneapolis without police is a “lofty, utopian place of peace and harmony” where inequality and racism are gone, but he knows that is not the city today. “Putting our two feet on the ground right in this moment, we need police and we need them to be better,” he said.
Flisrand, who’s running against 20-year incumbent Council Member Lisa Goodman, said the root of the question is about “addressing our city’s critical and totally unacceptable racial disparities.” While it’s “nowhere in our immediate future,” a city with a new form of policing is a worthy goal, Flisrand said.
“I can imagine that world, and I think that is the world I want to live in,” Flisrand said.
Goodman did not respond to the questionnaire.
Cano said right now she actually wants a greater police presence in the Ninth Ward, which includes several neighborhoods along East Lake Street.
“The solution is not really no cops, but it’s more how do we get rid of homelessness, how do we get rid of commercial sex exploitation, how do we get rid of chemical dependency?” she said. “Then you start alleviating the pressure that a lot of police officers feel to address these very deeply rooted challenges in our community, which they themselves know they’re not going to be able to solve.”
Cano’s opponents, Gary Schiff and Mohamed Farah, did not respond to the questionnaire.
Schroeder said it’s important to make the Police Department more accountable to citizens, and the goal of a city without police would have a healthy effect on policymaking.
“It is a pipe dream; I’m the first to admit that, but you have to question if our society would be better off going for a goal like that,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder opponent Council Member John Quincy did not respond to the questionnaire. Ellison and Jentzen could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Bender said that while she doesn’t think a city without police is realistic anytime soon, the city must change the way it polices itself.
“The fact that that question is important to young people, and my constituents think it’s important means I have a responsibility to work toward that with them,” Bender said.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405