Seventeen months after George Floyd’s murder led to nationwide calls to abolish or defund the police, voters in the city where the movement began soundly rejected a proposal Tuesday to replace its troubled police department in an election likely to have national implications in the debate over policing and racial justice.
With nearly all of the precincts reporting, the measure was failing by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, a disappointing result for supporters of the initiative, who blamed “disinformation” and “fearmongering” for the loss.
City Question Two would have amended the Minneapolis charter to allow the police department to be replaced by a Department of Public Safety.
The new agency would have taken a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety, including dispatching mental health workers to certain calls and more investment in violence prevention efforts.
Many Democrats believed the slogan ‘defund the police’ was damaging to the Party across the country.
Former President Barack Obama cautioned young activists last year against using the slogan to achieve changes in policing practices, instead urging them in a new interview to have a more inclusive discussion to better enact changes.
“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like ‘Defund The Police,’ but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama responded when asked what his advice is to an activist who believes in using the slogan although politicians are likely to avoid it.
“But if you instead say, ‘Let’s reform the police department so that everybody’s being treated fairly, you know, divert young people from getting into crime, and if there was a homeless guy, can maybe we send a mental health worker there instead of an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy?’ Suddenly, a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you.”
Obama, who previously said he would not defund police departments, said the key is for activists to decide whether they want to get something done or feel good among people they agree with.
“And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are,” he said and “play a game of addition and not subtraction.”
Other top Democrats, including President Biden and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, have said they support changes to policing practices but warned the phrase — which generally calls for redirecting some funding from police departments toward social welfare programs — could be harmful to the movement and the party.