A public hearing Tuesday night was dominated by demands to allow Minneapolis residents to vote on a proposal that could end the city’s Police Department.
Of the dozens of people who called in their comments, the vast majority urged the city’s Charter Commission to allow them to vote in November on a divisive proposal that would dramatically reshape public safety in the city.
“As a father, I’m worried for my sons, that they will be targets of the police, because of the color of their skin. This has gone too far, and I’m in support of amending the charter,” said Abdul Artan. “We really can’t wait any longer. Black lives are in danger.”
The proposal being debated, crafted by five City Council members, would end the city’s requirement to maintain a police force and fund it at a level based on population. In its place, the city would be required to create a community safety department that could include licensed police officers, but wouldn’t be required to do so.
While the people speaking Tuesday night overwhelmingly favored sending the controversial proposal to voters this fall, written public comments recently released by the city show a much more divided public.
The proposal has divided some Black-led organizations, and it has prompted a harsh blowback from some local businesses.
The Charter Commission has just over two weeks to decide how it will weigh those competing concerns — and whether it will push its own controversial proposal to end the minimum staffing requirement for police.
The issue has drawn intense public interest, with people submitting more than 5,000 written comments, and some political candidates beginning to use messages about defunding the police in their ads.
The city has released some of the written comments but not all of them.
The city posted a draft summary of the comments written by Charter Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein, who has been trying to track common themes emerging from them.
According to her summary, people who favor putting the measure on the ballot tend to argue that Minneapolis residents, and particularly people of color, cannot afford to wait for change. Residents, they say, should have the chance to vote quickly, because change is needed urgently and the charter presents a roadblock.
People who want the commission to block the measure from the November ballot tend to say they favor reforms but don’t feel this is the best path forward. They tend to argue that the proposal is too vague for voters to make an informed decision, or that they don’t feel there’s been enough chance for public input.
On both sides, there seems to be an increasing skepticism of the court-appointed Charter Commission or the city’s elected officials.
People in favor of putting the proposal on the ballot urged the commission not to invoke its right to take up to 150 days to review the measure, preventing it from coming up in this year’s election.
During the hearing, one of the callers acknowledged that the process has been rushed but said that’s appropriate.
“If these are not extraordinary circumstances, I would just love to hear an argument about how they are not,” Bill Olbrisch said, adding later: “I appreciate the commission’s work but if you are to work your process in such a way that stops me from voting, I will consider that to be unacceptable, illegitimate and unethical.”
People who want them to block it have increasingly expressed a lack of faith in City Council.
“I do not support the approach taken by an absolutely inept City Council that doesn’t even pretend to have a plan for how to keep the entire city of Minneapolis safe,” said Merv Moorhead, one of roughly 20 people who argued against voting on the proposal this year.
The commission plans to decide by Aug. 5 whether it will issue a recommendation on the council’s proposal — a suggestion the council can ignore — or whether it wants to take additional time to review the issue.
The Charter Commission will hold its third public hearing at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss a proposal that would delete the minimum staffing requirement for the Police Department but leave the rest of the charter intact. People who wish to submit public comment can visit www2.minneapolismn.gov or call 311 for help. People who want to speak during the hearings can sign up online via the city’s website.