An initial note: we encourage people to check out the PDF of the new, revised, expanded version of our report. These pages will be brought up into alignment with that, but it may take some time.
This section reviews the present state of policing and interviews from community members on how the Minneapolis Police Department functions in people’s lives today.
When it comes to police brutality, the typical response from politicians across the spectrum in Minneapolis is a demand for more cops. Many conservatives call for the hiring of more cops, while many liberals and progressives demand different kinds of reforms. Neither of these responses address police terror at its roots, nor do they address the systemic economic, social and racial injustice that commonly brings marginalized people into contact with MPD. While mitigating the harm MPD causes is worthwhile, community interviews show us the dangers of pushing the false narrative that MPD is capable of being reformed. Reform by any name boils down to more cops- community oriented policing services. The data as well as the personal and professional day-to-day experiences of Minneapolis residents shows us that the idea of community policing is just more lip-service from the establishment.
It is not uncommon for people to respond to the latest police brutality or fatality such as the homicides by MPD of Terrance Franklin, Fong Lee, Jamar Clark, Justine Damond, and countless others with words like, “but the police are supposed to protect and serve!” Let’s take a closer look at the myth that police are here to protect and serve everyone and that police violence is simply the product of a few bad apples that spoil the barrel of cops. Today Minneapolis Police Department vehicles deceptively display the words, “to serve with courage, to protect with compassion.” That slogan actually came from the marketing company Kazoo when they were hired in 2009 to help clean up the image of the Minneapolis Police Department. The director for the MPD marketing account, Tom DuPont stated, “Kazoo set out to create recruitment materials that emphasized service. But when the rank-and-file got wind of the new emphasis on ‘compassion,’ a fairly rough pushback ensued.”1Mullman., Jeremy. “Minneapolis Police Turn to Branding to Burnish Reputation.” Ad Age. February 19, 2009. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://adage.com/article/news/minneapolis-police-turn-branding-burnish-reputation/134748/. As an alternative, Kazoo created the line “Be looked up to,” which was added to posters that were subsequently distributed in target-market communities via schools, churches, community centers, and more.
This is a good example of how the system protects itself – when confronted with evidence of police terror, the government responds with public relations campaigns. One example of police image management can be seen in the Department of Justice’s COPS (Community Oriented Police Services) program, presented in six pillars. These pillars represent the typical public relations style responses used time and time again to pacify outcries from the community regarding police brutality around the country. One of these pillars is community policing. According to the official US Department of Justice COPS website, “since 1994, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to “help advance community policing.”2COPS Office: About COPS. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=35. Some of this money has been invested in Minneapolis – we’re one of six cities participating in the DOJ’s National Initiative of Building Community Trust and Justice. MPD is currently in its third year of the three-year, $4.75 million project. This is just one in a long line of reform programs marketed to, “increase trust between communities and the criminal justice system”3National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice. “Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis, Minnesota. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://trustandjustice.org/pilot-sites/info/minneapolis-minnesota.
These efforts have done little to stop police brutality. 2016 saw an all time high in deaths caused by police shootings according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The crime index hit a historic low in 2016 that hasn’t happened since 1966, and even in densely populated urban areas the violent crime rates by community members have been steadily declining as violent crime committed by MPD continues to rise.4Gottfried, Mara H., and Josh Verges. “Minnesota shooting deaths by police highest ever recorded. Dangerous year for cops, too.” Twin Cities. November 25, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.twincities.com/2016/11/25/minnesota-shooting-deaths-by-police-highest-ever-recorded-dangerous-year-for-cops-too/.5Mannix, Andy. “Minnesota crime drops to the lowest rate since The Beatles were bigger than Jesus.” MinnPost. July 2, 2015. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.minnpost.com/data/2015/07/minnesota-crime-drops-lowest-rate-beatles-were-bigger-jesus. It’s clear that community oriented policing services aren’t the answer we need.
Even the most helpful statistics fail to fully explain the harm and trauma that the police cause marginalized communities on a daily basis. Instead of trying to speak for the community, we’ve asked the community speak for itself.
Over the last year and a half, MPD150 and community partners have interviewed hundreds of community members about their interactions with the Minneapolis Police Department. These interviews were done with two groups of people: those likely to come into contact with police via their profession—whether employed through Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis, or nonprofit and grassroots organizations—and those likely to come into contact with the police due to their skin color, social, or economic status. We’ve included excerpts from these interviews below, and we invite you to read through them, remembering that there is a human story behind every single one. For the sake of privacy and security, the names of interviewees and identifying information about employers have been changed or omitted.
MPD FUNCTIONS TODAY AS A FORCE THAT DOES NOT PROTECT OR SERVE: MPD CRIMINALIZES THE COMMUNITY
“The police presence is all over. We have so much surveillance inside and outside of the shelter. We have police officers stationed. Your right to privacy is voided. Everything is set up like a prison. People already feel ‘criminalized’ and like they are being watched even if they have not committed a crime. People would be more humanized if this presence was voided.”
“There is not always an understanding from officers of the financial reasons, children involved, love and affection, and investment involved. Lots of police do not understand why a victim would stay with their abuser. They often get tired of going back to the same house multiple times. It’s really disheartening from someone who is supposed to be your partner and out there to serve the community and they have such a harmful attitude. On our hotline we do not necessarily get all of the calls coming in from Domestic Violence (DV). The police do not contact us every time. When we do get calls from officers, they don’t always understand the nuances within DV. A huge piece of DV is isolation. It was good that they asked a question. Often there are officers that genuinely care, and when I hear that I feel good that there is an officer that gets it, but many are just doing it as part of their duty. The way the system is set up is that most of the time we connect with our clients through the police. They are the first point of contact.”
“I’ve always wanted to provide a service to the community. Growing up in the Native American community, I felt like it was my duty to give back to the community. I wanted to be a resource to someone and help prevent and intervene when there were issues because the violence flows down to their children. Someone is stationed at the police station to answer calls and to follow up on cases. It is not their area of expertise, so having advocates available to provide insight or assistance is very helpful. There is a lot of mistrust with the community and the police. The relationship is strained and there is a lot of uncertainty with making police calls.”
“Well, twice during a meal, they came downstairs. Yeah. And that just creates chaos. It’s really hard to deal with when it happens. Cause, like, it makes everybody feel uneasy. And it actually makes people scatter. Like, people actually leave the space. I mean people will actually physically scatter. Like they will leave the building, they will go outdoors, they don’t ever go in or out. Like, um, folks will hide. And they’ll leave. And then, when you’re trying to create community, it’s heartbreaking. And then, we’ll be quiet that whole week, cause people just don’t show up. Cause the words gets out real quick that the cops were there on Monday, and everyone assumes they’re looking for them, even though they actually are not. A lot of my folks do have outstanding warrants and stuff like that. But even the folks who don’t, scatter. And they don’t feel safe. And folks who are former felons, and folks who are still on paper, and they just don’t…if the police are in that space, especially if they’re in uniform, and they’re…it’s no longer a safe space for them.”
“Queer and trans youth with whom we work, especially queer trans youth of color, have said time and time again that where they experience the most violence is with the police.”
“A lot of the time they’re [the police] just staying in their cars and just getting out when something bad happens. Literally doing no prevention of any kind, and if the community felt like they actually cared about the safety of the community and not just, like bad guys vs. good guys, whatever dynamic ends up happening, I think that it would impact crime rates completely. But the way that they often do it, and the way that the system is set up, is like fear tactics, patrolling from their cars with their tinted windows and we’re already afraid of shit going down in the neighborhood…they’re not making it safer, they’re making it worse, you know?”
“I don’t use that world as a resource for support or safety. Only use as a last resort. Maybe I have called [the police] twice in twenty-five years. I work with an organization where we do have to partner with the police. The kids we work with feel the most unsafe with the police. Hosts also know that most of the young people do not want to interface with the police.”
“Feeling like the police are not really helpful. We often have to use the police to take someone to the hospital for mental health, etc. It feels more like a taxi ride versus a service. It’s often written all over their body language that they don’t want to be here, it’s not a priority for them, it’s written all over their body language which is why it’s better to call someone who is trained to look at the situation for what it is. This is a person having a mental health crisis, the proper response is to address the person’s mental health. They are not trying to see the truth of what is happening, they are going through the motions, getting the bullet points, collecting the reports.”
“What we see is that homeless youth… we see that the white kids get funneled into mental health facilities and POC kids get funneled into the criminal justice system, which sets them up to have a record which makes it very difficult for them to get a job.”
“I had a client who had been raped at the Metro Transit station, she was lured into a parking garage and raped. So she was really proactive […] So her reaction was ‘Okay, I’mma go to the police, I’mma make a police report, I’mma go to the emergency room, get checked out, and then I’m gonna go make an appointment with my therapist.’ She had, like, she knew what she needed to do […] And I took her to the police station to make a police report. And the officer who was there, that just happened to be his beat. He was familiar—that’s his route, this parking garage is on his route. He’s familiar with that area. So he was coming from a place of ‘We’re gonna get this guy,’ he wanted to help her, it was good, but he was […] almost parental about it. He was like, ‘Well, why were you there so late at night?’ Yeah, he didn’t say, ‘What were you wearing,’ which is the classic line, but he said EVERYTHING else. ‘Why were you there so late at night? Why didn’t you have a friend? Why are you taking the bus to work so early in the morning? Why don’t you take an Uber?’[…] I had to keep telling him, I had to keep bringing him back, he’s like ‘Well why did you do this, why did you do this,’ instead of saying, ‘Where did you get raped, what time, what did the person look like, what did he do after,’ that kinda interview. He was focused just, like, entirely on her behavior, not on this person. So I felt like I was running the interview. And this guy was in his fifties. I was like, ‘Dude, how long have you been doing this for? I just happened to sit in on your making a report for a sexual assault, and you are doing it all wrong.’ He was like, ‘Well I’ve had training, and Iknowwhereyou’recomingfrom,and I’m not trying to yell at you, but if my daughter got into this situation […]’ ‘Cause he has kids, right? Father figure. I was so proud of her, she’s like ‘Well I’m not your fucking daughter? Right? Am I? No? I need help. Quit scolding me and get the information.’[…] So, you know, I haven’t heard from him since, I see him every once in awhile, but, man. If I could just sit him down for a few hours and let him know what he’s doing wrong in a way that’s professional, I wish. I wish. But he’s not forced to do that for me, or for anyone else.”
“It’s like what was y’all doing? If y’all are so present, why aren’t y’all really present? They’re all out here, but what are y’all really doing? Like I said, it makes people look at police like, “Why are y’all here if y’all not going to really serve or protect how y’all are supposed to? Serving and protecting, it shouldn’t be something that’s optional.”
“There are a lot of male clients coming in that feel like they wouldn’t be believed by the police that they are being abused because they should be this strong black man or that they might be viewed as the aggressor.”
“The police do not treat men or gender nonconforming people in the same way (as they treat women). When they do call police, it sometimes takes two hours for the police to arrive after a domestic violence call is made. By the time the police do come, the perpetrator might be gone and it’s really hard on the victim and it discourages them to call. It is not always effective.”
“When a victim acts in self-defense, often the victim will get arrested. It’s often difficult for the police to pinpoint the primary aggressor, especially in same-sex relationships.”
MPD ESCALATES RATHER THAN DE-ESCALATES: MPD RESPONSE TO CRISES DOESN’T REDUCE HARM; IT AMPLIFIES HARM
“I’ve had a conversation with my director of security, so I can speak to the conversation he and I have, more than I can talk about with my other two guys, but the conversation that he and I have is that we don’t call the cops if we can help it. Because we don’t trust that they’re gonna show up in a way that actually de-escalates the situation, where it would be good for us. With relationship to our guests and clients that we love.”
“We need the police to act a little more like a social worker and less like a soldier.”
“If you are the victim of a crime…and there might be chemical dependency stuff involved, there might be mental health stuff involved too, but if the core of it is you’re the victim of a crime, I still want you to have you agency and have your power. And that gets taken away when cops show up too. That somehow then you’re just supposed to hand all this over to them, and they’re gonna solve it and fix it, and bring some form of justice. And since generally, that’s not my experience of how it works? It’s not working.”
“So when they see the homeless shelter, they’re automatically thinking ‘this person’s violent, dangerous, we need to get them out right away.’ They’re just—anger, frustration, confusion. It’s a really delicate situation to deal with. I’ve had to personally throw myself in front of a cop before because they were acting way too aggressively for the situation for my client.”
“When you see the cops you’re always on your guard. You think they could be coming for me, or something easily could have set them off. Something small I do might be able to set them off. If I have my hands in my pocket, or if I’m reaching for my wallet, if I’m checking my timer or watch. Just being conscious of any kind of action, any small action, could have a drastic impact or it could be the last thing I do. Yeah, just always being just still like a statue. I can’t be myself around cops or anything.”
“Just the whole profiling aspect of it is terrible, getting pulled over just because you
look like another African-American male or nothing like an African-American male or whatever. Yeah, I mean it just makes you be more cautious. I’m always cautious when I’m driving. I’m cautious when I’m out and about in public outside of my door. Have to always be conscious of the fact that I’m Black and I can be easily profiled, easily targeted. I have to always walk with that in the forefront of my mind no matter where I am…You should feel safe, but you feel on your guard.”
“We work with the police all of the time. Nine out of ten people are never going to report to the police ever. They might be going to the hospital for the sexual assault exam but they are not making a police report […] Sexual assault is a tool of oppression and it is disproportionately felt by marginalized communities […] A lot of people who are sexually assaulted have a history with police already, and that history is one where the police were agents of violence against them. So it wouldn’t occur to them to turn to the police when violence has happened to them, because the police are not safe people to them and they never have been. The police are agents of violence to them. We work with how to improve the support victims receive after sexual assault […] it’s hard on our part to move people forward after they have experienced sexual violence because the path that is available to victims is not a healthy, safe, and restorative path […] there is tremendous pressure on Black women to not send another Black man to jail. They are really discouraged in the community from reporting at all or reaching out for service.”
“The police ain’t never helped me in my life. They’ve always hindered me in some type of way. Actually, I really thought that when me and you had got into it if the police would have came in time it wouldn’t have been a problem, but they came super late and they was super aggressive. It was too much. They’ve never been there when they needed to be for me. They always there when it’s time for me to be in trouble. Not when I need them.”
“We had called 911 for medical help—the EMT took care of it and the police came and were very forceful and were trying to force their way into the shelter even though we were clear that we didn’t need them anymore. The situation had been taken care of and they didn’t believe
they were kind of confrontational and pushing and I wouldn’t let them in the building because there was no reason for them to be in the building.”
“Staff at [name of org. omitted] are really good about letting youth know, police are coming, if you need to leave you should. We know that most of the kids we work with are not comfortable with police around. That’s where they live, it is their home and most of them don’t have anything positive to say about the police, they do not want to see them.”
IT IS DANGEROUS TO CALL UPON, TALK, INTERACT, OR COLLABORATE WITH MPD: “9-1-1’S A JOKE IN YOUR TOWN”
“They rarely have the response we are hoping for—they are not interested in really helping people in the way that they need it. This population of people are not a priority for them, their responses are often robotic. They are not really trying to see the ‘truth’ of what is happening. It’s better for us to call someone that is trained to look at the situation globally.”
“I want to say, when’s the last time you had a mental health training? When’s the last time you interacted with a trans client? When’s the last time you’ve sat with someone and talked with them about their sex trafficking experience? You know, like, I’m seeing that there’s not a lot of training in your field, and there’s plenty of training in mine, so guess what? Imma go with what I know. Enough to tell my clients what I know. It’s as simple as that. I’m not trying to make them hate the cops, I’m not trying to enforce this “don’t trust the police” mentality, but it’s like, simply you have other options. Unless someone’s trying to kill you. Which, I mean, a lot of times it is that kinda situation, in which case, when is it good to call the cops, when is it bad to call the cops? So, that’s kinda where I’m at.”
“Then another experience was I was pregnant […] and I was at [a] memorial block party. Some stuff happened, an altercation with a couple people […] I was walking past with my two girl cousins on the side of me because I had just fell but they held me up because when all the commotion was going on I was trying to get out the way. They held me up. I was walking across the street and then we were going to the police to tell them what happened. Then they maced all three of us. That night I had to spend the night in the hospital because of that, because I swallowed mace and everything.”
“We’ve had a couple instances where police have arrested victim-survivors with warrants.”
“Once I was coming back from a party and everything was good. For once there was no fighting and no shooting after a party. It was so good. Then the police came and it was like me and seven other people standing on this gate that was in the alley. The police, we seen them riding through the alley where we were standing, but we thought they were just about to go past because we weren’t doing nothing to anyone, no fights or nothing. Next thing you know they stop right at the beginning of the line of us. I was kind of in the middle. They stopped and next thing you know he started driving real fast. He rolled the window down and just maced all of us in a line.”
MPD IS BEYOND REFORM: SLAPPING PAINT ON A HOUSE WITH A BAD FOUNDATION IS FUTILE
“I actually got in a full-blown argument at—what was it? It was a panel discussion; I was with the chief of police’s assistant for Hennepin County, I was with an FBI agent, and also with a—it was the worst panel I’ve ever been on. Um, it was a public defender, but not the good kind. And it was me […] my policy is to train or give my clients the skills to use their community instead of the police. What can you do? […] Ooh man, the people on our panel did not like that information. They’re like, ‘What? What do you mean you’re telling your clients not to call the cops?’ They have trauma! I’m not gonna force them to call the cops! It’s as simple as that!”
“There was a retired, a retired police officer… He’s the only one I ever liked. Um, but it was interesting. He was like, because he was retired, he had a lot more freedom to say what he wanted to say […] and he was like, when you work with police, like, one of the things he said that stuck with me, he was like, when you work with police, be mindful that a lot of them are shitheads. Like, a lot of them are not for their better interests, like a lot of them are like, because they like power and because they have a paycheck. He’s like, you have to find a specific person and connect with that person all of the time because most of them are not that way. Like it really hit me, because I was like this is like this old, he was like a seventy-year-old white dude, and like he was like, yup. Police are fucked up. Like, they go, they do a lot of shit, and like, I, he was in leadership at the time. And he was like, even when you’re in leadership you can’t say anything. Because if you say something that’s your job on the line.”
“I don’t think they’re bad people in general, not all of them, but I do think that they were never designed to help us in any place that does things without us, plans things without us, is not about us.”
“With the police here I think it just has a negative impact because, I don’t know, I think we’re just kind of used to it by now, Black people because… I think it’s just this long-instilled mental trauma that’s happened since the beginning… and it’s just migrated until today with police and brutality. Just even starting with slavery, starting way back, just that whole abuse and trauma of slavery and how it’s just shifted from that to civil rights to today even with the Black president… all this time people, Black people, has been oppressed. It’s just changed. Those forms of oppression, forms of abuse have just shifted. Oppression has changed in its form since time, but it’s still there and just as harmful.”
“Once a month I sit in a meeting where there are cops there. Advocates from legal, advocacy, health, and law enforcement. Sometimes it is helpful but sometimes it is not. The people that are there really want to change the system to help improve responses to people who experience sexual violence, but I personally don’t believe that the policing system can be changed. So it’s challenging to work with, even when the individuals are good people that are there. Sometimes I feel like I am working toward something that I don’t really believe in.”
Abolition, Not Reform, Is The Way Forward
Community interviews on how MPD functions shows why MPD would need to hire a marketing firm to convince the community that they exist to serve and protect the community it terrorizes. When it comes to the notion of police reform an emphasis is placed on the appearance of legitimate authority and fairness where none exists. According to the first of six pillars presented in the presidential report by the Department of Justice on 21st century policing, “People are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it [cops] have the legitimate authority to tell them what to do.”6President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. 2015.
An attempt, or at least the perceived attempt, to diversify a police force to include more non-white officers is a common but ineffective response to the community demands to address police terror. One such example of this played out recently in 2017 when the former chief of MPD was forced to resign directly following the shooting of Justine Damond, an affluent white woman, by a Black Somali American officer. The Mayor immediately appointed a new Black chief of police. Data shows that hiring more non-white officers does not reduce police violence.7Bouie, Jamelle. “Why More Diverse Police Departments Won’t Put an End to Police Misconduct .” Slate Magazine. October 13, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/10/diversity_won_t_solve_police_misconduct_black_cops_don_t_reduce_violence.html. Neither does hiring more female presenting officers, who are more likely to shoot than their male presenting counterparts. However, the primary correlation of an increase in shootings by police, is not increase in crime but simply an increase in Black residents.8Ibid.9Smith, Brad W. “The Impact of Police Officer Diversity on Police-Caused Homicides.” Policy Studies Journal 31, no. 2 (2003): 147-62. doi:10.1111/1541-0072.t01-1-00009.
In 2016, a group of researchers at the University of Cincinnati analyzed sixty studies on the relationship between numbers of police and crime levels from 1968 to 2013. The data showed that increasing the numbers of police does not reduce crime, and reducing the numbers of police doesn’t increase crime. One of the researchers stated, “…We can reduce police staffing some amount and use that money to renovate our neighborhoods and our communities. And I think that’s better than just increasing the police force.”10Lee, Yongjei, John E. Eck, and Nicholas Corsaro. “Conclusions from the history of research into the effects of police force size on crime—1968 through 2013: a historical systematic review.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 12, no. 3 (2016): 431-51. doi:10.1007/s11292-016-9269-8.
Promises to reform MPD through culture and policy changes are not new but they are futile. Trying to reform MPD makes about as much sense as trying to reform, rather than abolish, the institution of slavery in the 1800’s. Countless individuals, as well as formal and informal collective efforts, planted seeds that over time sprouted into the growth of the abolitionist movement.
The notion of not only envisioning a Minneapolis without police but actively working towards a police free society is not as outlandish as some may initially think. In fact, when Minneapolis mayoral and city council candidates for 2017 were asked if they believe that “we could ever have a city without police,” nine candidates responded in the affirmative. One candidate replied, “I can imagine that world, and I think that’s the world I want to live in.” These responses were published by Voices for Racial Justice and Pollen in a non-partisan voter guide.11Smith, Brad W. “The Impact of Police Officer Diversity on Police-Caused Homicides.” Policy Studies Journal 31, no. 2 (2003): 147-62. doi:10.1111/1541-0072.t01-1-00009.12Bouie, Jamelle. “Why More Diverse Police Departments Won’t Put an End to Police Misconduct .” Slate Magazine. October 13, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/10/diversity_won_t_solve_police_misconduct_black_cops_don_t_reduce_violence.html.13“Voter Guide.” Pollen. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.pollenmidwest.org/voter-guide/.14Belz, Adam. “Some Minneapolis candidates say they can envision a city without police.” Star Tribune. October 5, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.startribune.com/some-city-council-candidates-say-they-can-envision-a-minneapolis-without-police/449500303/.
A look at the past and the present has established that the institution of policing cannot be reformed and as a community, our resources should be used to work towards abolishing slavery by another name. The time to divest in the Minneapolis Police Department is now. The time to invest in community- based safety programs is now. Abolition is the only way forward.
“The apologists for slavery often speak of the abuses of slavery; and they tell us that they are as much opposed to those abuses as we are; and that they would go as far to correct those abuses and to ameliorate the condition of the slave as anybody. The answer to that view is that slavery is itself an abuse; that it lives by abuse, and dies by the lack of abuse.”
~Frederick Douglass, The Prospect in the Future, August 1860