An initial note: we encourage people to check out the PDF of the new, revised, expanded version of our report. These pages (especially this one, which has some additional information) will be brought up into alignment with that, but it may take some time.
What do you do when you’re in a relationship that turns violent? People experiencing domestic violence may need someone to step in, may need a safe place to go, may need a loved one to leave, and may need emotional support. Calling the police means they will be met with violent force in a situation where they are already facing violence. They may be putting a loved one’s life in danger, as well as their own life. Police officers are also two to four times more likely to commit domestic violence than othercommunity members, making them a poor choice for survivors seeking help. Minneapolis has a number of existing resources for people experiencing domestic violence including stalking, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. The Tubman Crisis Line, Crisis Connection, Sexual Violence Center, Cornerstone, MN Day One Crisis Hotline, OutFront and Advocare have crisis hotlines. The Domestic Abuse Project has a crisis hotline during business hours on weekdays, individual and group counseling for adults and children experiencing abuse, as well as support for adults who have committed abuse and are working to stop the cycle of abuse. Crisis Connection in Washington and Anoka Counties create mobile crisis response teams that respond to calls when appropriate. People experiencing domestic violence need to establish personal safety for themselves and other family members. affected by the violence. Having trusted community members available to respond to violent situations is a necessity. Those who respond need to be able to read the situation and be prepared to intervene, de-escalate, and/or offer emotional support and access to resources like temporary housing. Those who respond need to prioritize the person experiencing the violence as well as offer support for the person committing it. Abusers must be held accountable, while prioritizing the needs of victim-survivors, all while following community-determined standards and creating a pathway to healing and reconciliation for the person committing the harm.
The war on drugs has been very effective in systematically criminalizing communities of color, locking millions of people up, and making billions of dollars for private prison corporations. On the other hand, it’s been completely ineffective at reducing the availability of drugs or preventing the harm that can come from some drug use.3 Just as the Minneapolis Police Department failed to stop alcohol consumption during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, they have been unsuccessful at regulating the sale and use of other drugs in the decades since. Despite the continued criminalization of drug use, there are many resources available in Minneapolis to support users, including counseling, syringe access, HIV testing, and overdose prevention. Some of the organizations and collectives doing this work are H.A.N.D, or Heroin Alternative Needle Distribution, the Minnesota AIDS project, the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, and the Morpheus Project. There’s a simple solution to drug use in a police-free world: legalize it. Communities across the United States have been decriminalizing recreational marijuana usage, preventing thousands of community members from being incarcerated for using a relatively harmless drug. Other countries have gone even further: Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2000, and has seen declines in HIV infection, overdose deaths, and overall drug usage.4 Of course, decriminalization alone won’t undo the harm that the war on drugs has done to communities of color, and any discussion of legalization should include conversations about reparations to communities that have been targeted under the guise of “drug enforcement.”
Ever since Minnesota passed its first vagrancy law in the early 1900s, one of the duties of the Minneapolis Police Department has been to round up and criminalize people experiencing homelessness. That remains true today; Minneapolis has criminalized a range of activities that are unavoidable for many homeless folks, including begging in some places, sleeping in vehicles, and using temporary structures such as tents for housing. Police come into contact with people experiencing homelessness in other ways, too: for example, when people fearful of those without housing call 911, or when police are tasked with “cleaning up” an area of the city prior to a major event like the Super Bowl. Arresting, brutalizing, and criminalizing people experiencing homelessness doesn’t help them find stable housing; in fact, it makes it more difficult for them to do so. We need to find better ways of dealing with our housing problems in Minneapolis. Some of the resources we need to solve our housing crisis already exist: Minneapolis has a number of shelters and social service providers that can help people experiencing homelessness find a place to sleep short- or long-term. We have a particularly strong network of resources for youth experiencing homelessness, including organizations like Streetworks, The Bridge, and Youthlink. There’s even a street outreach team run by St. Stephen’s Human Services that seeks to be the first point of contact for people living on the street, helping to provide them with resources and sometimes intervening in community-police interactions that would otherwise lead to arrest. Despite these resources, we still have an affordable housing crisis in Minneapolis. The vacancy rate for apartments hovers around 2%, and we’re growing rapidly without building enough new housing. Meanwhile, our homeless shelters are filled to capacity: we only have around six hundred beds for single adults in the city, and dozens of people are turned away every night, forced to sleep outside because of a lack of funding. If we want to solve homelessness in Minneapolis, instead of asking police to arrest our way out of the problem, we should start by increasing the number of shelter beds available, building more affordable housing, and resisting gentrification.
It’s no secret that the United States doesn’t have adequate mental health care facilities. Ever since most mental hospitals were defunded and closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been little recourse for people going through psychological crises. Right now, when someone experiencing a crisis calls 911, the police are the first to be dispatched. It’s estimated that one in ten police calls involves someone experiencing a mental health crisis, but police are poorly trained to deal with those crises. In the United States, the average police officer receives 58 hours of firearms training and 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but only 8 hours of de-escalation training, a key element in helping resolve mental health crises. In Minneapolis, police officers go through 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training designed to help them deal with these situations, and the department is starting to train mental health co-responders, but the fact remains that police departments are still unprepared to deal with mental health crises when compared to community healers and mental health professionals. This reality is reflected in the long history, both in Minneapolis and around the country, of people with mental illness being brutalized and killed by police officers. Thankfully, we already have a number of alternatives to the police when dealing with mental health crises in Minneapolis. Hennepin County has a program called COPE (Community Outreach for Psychiatric Services) that will dispatch qualified mental health responders to your location at any time of the day or night. There’s a similar program for responding to youth mental health crises called Hennepin County Child Crisis. We also have a network of locally-based mental health crisis hotlines like Crisis Connection, Tubman’s Crisis Line, and MN Warmline. The biggest limitation that mental health crisis response programs face is a lack of resources. If we funded mental health care services more broadly in our society, there wouldn’t be as many crises to begin with. Even the programs we have are often underfunded: Crisis Connection, which has operated for nearly fifty years, was nearly shut down in the summer of 2017 after state legislators refused to set aside $1.4 million to continue funding it. COPE doesn’t receive enough funding either - when all of their responders are already dispatched and they receive a call, all they can do is tell the person requesting help to call the police department. If we want our city to care for people experiencing mental health crises, we should make mental health responders our first responders, rather than bringing them in as an afterthought.
Most property crime is driven not by malice, but by desperation. A capitalist economy forces each of us to fend for ourselves with little social support or aid. In a time of historically high income inequality, it’s no mystery why some people turn to theft, burglary, and other property crime to provide for themselves. The best way to reduce property crime isn’t to jail everyone who is poor, or try to scare community members into obedience: it’s to invest in communities so that people have less of a need to steal from each other in the first place. When property crime does occur, oftentimes restorative and transformative justice processes produce better outcomes than arrest and incarceration. In addition to the Native communities who have practiced holistic forms of justice in Minnesota for millennia, we have a number of nonprofits doing restorative justice work in Minneapolis, including Restorative Justice Community Action and Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice Partnership. At present, these agencies work closely with the Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County Court System, allowing for alternative responses to incarceration for minor crimes such as shoplifting, theft, and public urination. There’s no reason, however, that restorative and transformative justice groups can’t stand on their own, helping to proactively address conflict in the community without involving the criminal justice system. If we want to reduce property crime, and help heal both perpetrators and victims, we should look to restorative justice rather than police action.
We can’t discuss how to respond to violence in our communities without acknowledging that police cause violence in our communities - directly, through beatings and shootings, and indirectly, through harassment and criminalization. If we want to end violence in our communities, ending police violence is a necessary step. Police are certainly not the only source of violence in our city. Interpersonal violence has been a constant throughout human history, and it is only exacerbated by poverty and despair. Police aren’t all that effective at preventing violence. Studies show that increasing or decreasing the number of police officers in a city doesn’t affect violent crime levels, and many assaults and murders go unsolved. What has been shown to be effective are programs that give resources back to the community, empowering us to make our own decisions about how to keep our neighborhoods safe. In the Twin Cities, community efforts to prevent violence include MAD DADs, the Youth Coordinating Board’s Outreach Team, and a number of violence prevention initiatives run by the city’s Health Department. Models from elsewhere in the country and the world can provide inspiration as well. Cure Violence’s Violence Interruption programs are one example of a program that is empirically proven to be effective at reducing violence.Minneapolis is starting to invest in community-led safety programs, but we have a long way to go if we want to live in a community that deals with violence proactively and humanely. Responding to violence is one of the most difficult challenges we face as a city, with or without police. But by providing much-needed resources to different communities, giving them space to create their own safety strategies, and reducing our reliance on the ineffective and harmful responses championed by the Minneapolis Police Department, we can create a safer, healthier Minneapolis.
Where there is historical trauma, poverty, and economic marginalization, there will always be an opportunity for exploitation. Sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, like other forms of labor trafficking, prey on the vulnerable - those whose agency has been taken away from them by a system that keeps vast numbers of people trapped in a cycle of scarcity - disproportionately women and trans folx from Native communities and communities of color. There are some resources available now for survivors of trafficking: among others, TeenPRIDE/The Family Partnership serves young women and transgender youth who are survivors of sex trafficking and sex exploitation. Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC) and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) both work specifically within the Indigenous community, providing both direct services and community advocacy. These are only a few organizations among many doing this work, and not to mention the countless individuals who have devoted their time and labor to supporting victim-survivors and ending sex trafficking. On a state level, Minnesota has enacted a No Wrong Doors policy, and became a Safe Harbors State in 2014 (more information available through Minnesota Department of Health). These programs operate from a specific crisis-response lens and have their own shortfalls, but they’re a start. While all programming and response efforts continue to evolve, resources still fall short, particularly for adults and families, and marginalized communities are still over-targeted by multiple players and systems. If we truly want to support survivors, we need to invest in prevention, specifically in ending the economic and social conditions that lead to such deeply rooted vulnerabilities in the first place.
Despite having existed in Minneapolis since its earliest days, sex work is stigmatized and criminalized in our city. MPD has a long history of extortion and intimidation of sex workers, including cases where police officers lied to sex workers to receive sexual favors, then immediately turned around and arrested them. MPD150 reached out to the Sex Workers Outreach Project Minneapolis (SWOP MPLS) for information on what alternatives are available to the harassment and criminalization they see at the hands of the police. This is what they sent us: “Resources that directly service the sex work community are primarily religious institutions that work in conjunction with law enforcement, ICE, and the anti-trafficking movement. Some organizations operate in a savior modality, and treat all sex work as equal to trafficking. In terms of non-judgmental resources for sex workers, we mostly have to look to the reproductive rights community, and resources for queer folx. Organizations like Family Tree Clinic, the Aliveness Project, Whole Woman’s Health, Red Door Clinic, and Planned Parenthood understand the effect of stigma on sex workers and provide safe spaces for medical care and political support. The Exchange, the Midwest Transgender Health Coalition, and the now defunct MotherShip have provided practical support for the foundation of the Sex Workers Outreach Project MPLS. SWOP MPLS is the first peer-based organization advocating for the human rights of sex workers in this city. We have collected information on therapists, lawyers, and other service providers who are knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of sex workers on our website - sadly, this list is not very extensive. Decriminalization of sex work is the central goal of our movement. Legalization comes with government regulations that will cause new and different harms to sex workers. The way the legal brothels in Nevada and Netherlands operate has proved to be somewhat problematic, and it leaves workers outside of these institutions more vulnerable to legal penalties.6 Of course, remaining outside of legalization denies us employee status. Even within sex work that is currently legal, workers are considered independent contractors. The traditional tools for collective bargaining are not available to sex workers. We are trying to envision an independent form of unionizing, where we could use our collective resources to provide ourselves with stuff like insurance, child care, and of course safety precautions. Generally the Sex Workers Rights movement prefers to strengthen independent contractor status rather than advocate to become employees. There is little recourse, legal or otherwise, for sex workers currently. Sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, like other forms of labor trafficking, prey on the vulnerable - those whose agency has been taken away from them by a system that keeps vast numbers of people trapped in a cycle of scarcity - disproportionately women and trans folx from Native communities and communities of color. There are some resources available now for survivors of trafficking: among others, TeenPRIDE/The Family Partnership serves young women and transgender youth who are survivors of sex trafficking and sex exploitation. Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC) and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) both work specifically within the Indigenous community, providing both direct services and community advocacy. These are only a few organizations among many doing this work, and not to mention the Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation have message boards, and other online community spaces where we can report abusive clients to one another. The largest, and most effective board was on Backpage.com, which had its adult entertainment section shut down last winter. Something else will pop up in its place - we are nothing if not resilient - but we need something better. Sex workers tend to have a DIY attitude towards most things in life, and a complicated relationship with capitalism. Most are not revolutionaries, but the community would prefer to be allowed to deal with our issues ourselves.”
All violence violates people’s boundaries, but sexual violence can be particularly egregious because of the combination of physical, emotional, and sexual boundaries it crosses. As with domestic violence, police are poor responders to sexual violence for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they commit sexual violence at rates higher than the general population.2 Crisis Connection, RAINN, Sexual Violence Center, MN Day One Crisis Hotline, The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline all provide hotlines and access to resources. The Stop It Now! Helpline is for adults who are at risk for sexually abusing a child, for friends and family members of sexual assault survivors and for parents of children with sexual behavior problems. In addition to what we laid out as necessary responses to domestic violence situations, victim-survivors of sexual assault may need access to specialized physical and emotional support. It is our responsibility as a community to ensure we have people who can provide this support. We also need community members who are ready to engage with the person who committed the sexual assault, to hold them accountable for their actions and address any underlying causes/issues that may have contributed to their actions. We have to prioritize the needs of survivors as well as establish and follow community norms for responding to sexual violence.
One of the most common things Minneapolis police officers do - more than 120 times a day - are “suspicious person,” “suspicious vehicle,” and “traffic law enforcement” stops. People of color are disproportionately pulled over in these stops on flimsy pretexts, sometimes being searched with the hopes that police will turn up evidence of criminal activity, sometimes being fined to put more money into the hands of the city. An ACLU report from 2015 found that people of color are far more likely than white people to be arrested for normal traffic violations in Minneapolis - for example, Black people were almost nine times as likely as white people to be arrested when pulled over in the middle of the day. Traffic stops aren’t just minor annoyances, they’re dangerous, for both community members and officers: Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop after being pulled over 49 times in 13 years, and although it’s rare for police officers to be shot while on duty, many of the shootings that do happen occur during traffic stops. Traffic stops don’t make sense as a community safety practice. What little good they do is outweighed by the harassment and violence they inflict on marginalized communities. Those that investigate “suspicious” people or vehicles should be eliminated entirely: no one should have to be harassed or searched by the police just because of their appearance. There are better ways we could handle traffic violations, too: if someone has a broken taillight, for example, a warning in the mail would not only be as effective as a traffic stop, but a safer way to let them know. Many states already do this with toll violations. Even with more immediate violations, like speeding or reckless driving, bringing an armed police officer into the situation just makes it more likely that the stop will end in tragedy. Traffic stops are a bad idea, and we should look to other ways to keep our streets safe.