Minneapolis City Council advances controversial police oversight proposal
After a tense, marathon meeting that laid bare fervent community unrest with government leaders, members of the Minneapolis City Council narrowly pushed forward a controversial proposal Wednesday night to take some power over the Police Department away from the mayor.
Dozens of activists filled the council chambers and dominated the five-hour-long meeting, interrupting others by speaking out of turn, calling council members “cowards” and “trash” and demanding wholesale overhaul of the Police Department.
“Get your corporate check and run!” one audience member shouted as Council Member Abdi Warsame tried to explain why he didn’t support the amendment. “This is your last term!”
The debate over whether ceding some police governance to the council would create more accountability came after two officers fatally shot Thurman Blevins, a black man in north Minneapolis, in June.
The question has split the council, and much of the debate between council members Wednesday centered on confusion over what power the council currently holds over police. That was more reason, proponents argued, to put the charter amendment on the ballot to let voters weigh in this November.
Detractors cast the move as premature politicization of the Police Department, calling it lip service that would not lead to meaningful reforms.
The amendment will go to the full council for a vote Friday. If it passes, the council will refer the final language to the city’s charter commission.
The meeting allowed the first public comment on the proposed charter amendment.
More than 40 signed up to speak, and many continued to talk out of turn throughout the meeting, often criticizing those who spoke against the amendment.
Frank Brown said he supported the amendment, but said it’s only a start.
“I’m here to encourage you to make this amendment pass and make some change, because I think that that’s what we as citizens of Minneapolis wanted when we elected you as City Council people,” he said. “What we have now is not working.”
Several came to demand civilian control over the department.
“We know what the issues are,” said Sam Martinez. “We know the problem. And we know the solution. That’s why we want community control of the police.”
Those who opposed the amendment criticized it for moving too quickly.
“This lack of community involvement smacks of ‘we know better than you,’ ” said Michelle Gross, president of watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality.
Members of downtown neighborhood associations and the business community have also spoken out against the amendment, saying it would put “too many cooks in the kitchen” and make it unnecessarily difficult for city leaders to govern when swift decisionmaking is paramount.
“The City Council’s role with respect to MPD is already substantial, and is sufficient,” reads a submitted statement from the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
“The proposed charter amendment is a step too far in the wrong direction.”
After the public comment period, council members tried to voice their opinions on the issue, but were frequently interrupted, leaving some visibly frustrated.
“I’m done,” City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said at one point, after being drowned out by shouting. “Every time I talk, I’m interrupted. I’m done.”
Council Member Steve Fletcher successfully proposed an amendment to the charter language that would allow the mayor to retain executive power, but give the council more authority to introduce new policies and regulation changes.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who supported the amendment, addressed the audience to say he shared some of their concerns with the Police Department. He called out Police Federation President Bob Kroll, who praised the officers who shot Blevins earlier this week and said Blevins was “fair game” because he was carrying a gun.
“The last thing we need is more officers with ice running through their veins,” Cunningham said.
The Joint Council Committees — and the unusual joint committee of Intergovernmental Relations and Public Safety Emergency Management — passed the amendment forward by one vote.
The committees also passed a motion from Council Member Alondra Cano directing the city attorney to provide legal analysis of what power the current charter gives the council over police.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036