Don and Sondra Samuels chose to make their home in Minneapolis' Jordan neighborhood 25 years ago. "We wanted to give back," Don Samuels said. "It was not a casual decision." The first week they were there, a bullet sailed through their daughter's bedroom window. Time to get to work.
"We started a block club, interacted with the precinct, demanding they actually serve the community," he told an editorial writer. "We and all our neighbors formed phone trees, did neighborhood patrols. I started to hold vigils for the people killed by police and others."
Urged on by friends and neighbors, Don Samuels ran for City Council and won. Sondra Samuels became the president of the Public Engagement and Community Empowerment (PEACE) Foundation. That morphed into the Northside Achievement Zone, which has gained national acclaim for its efforts to break the deadly cycles of intergenerational poverty and crime.
"We know about bringing a public health approach to public safety," Sondra Samuels said. "We have been living it for 25 years."
So when the Samuels and Minneapolis resident Bruce Dachis filed a lawsuit earlier this week challenging a ballot question that could abolish the Police Department, the Star Tribune Editorial Board thought it would be worthwhile for readers to learn more about why these important, longtime leaders in the Black community are voicing opposition.
"We're in this lawsuit for all the children who have been shot and killed, and for all our neighbors," Sondra Samuels said. "We are pawns in a political experiment that has no plan."
And there is, in fact, no detailed plan for what would come next should the ballot question pass. Within 30 days, the Minneapolis Police Department would cease to exist, to be replaced by a Department of Public Safety that, according to the ballot question, could employ police "if necessary."
Some have contended that there would continue to be police and that a police chief could still exist as a subordinate to a public safety commissioner. But those are assumptions, not spelled out in the ballot question.
The Samuelses say they still remember when council members promised community hearings to develop such a plan before the vote. "That never happened," Don Samuels told an editorial writer. "There are a whole lot of voices that have been ignored and shut out."
More than anything, Sondra Samuels said, "We all want a safe city — safe from both rogue police and community violence. Don and I were part of bringing a public health approach to community safety a decade ago. There is no reform in this ballot question. Where's the accountability?"
Worse, she said, "We would lose our first, homegrown African American chief who rose through the ranks with a vision of what good policing could be." Indeed, within hours of an editorial writer's interview with the Samuelses, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo broke his silence to tell reporters that passage of the ballot question would create "a wholly unbearable position for any law enforcement leader or police chief."
The ballot question would change the structure of law enforcement so that instead of reporting to the mayor alone, the new public safety commissioner — to be appointed by the council — would answer to the mayor and to each of the 13 council members, who would hold equal power.
"We all want so many of the same things," Sondra Samuels said. "We need both radical reform right now and sufficient numbers of police to address the egregious rise in crime and violence throughout our city."
The lawsuit filed by the Samuels and Dachis goes before a judge on Thursday, and early voting begins Sept. 17.