Turning an ‘understanding eye’ to violence
Recently, I wrote about new research which suggested that Minneapolis is in for a rise in violent crime following the death of George Floyd in custody on Memorial Day. Sadly, that looks to be coming true. Since May 25th, there have been 14 homicides in Minneapolis, an increase of 81% over the average for the previous four years. The most recent was Sunday’s horrific murder of Leneesha Helen Columbus near the corner of 37th St. and Elliot Ave, the Powderhorn Park neighborhood. Ms. Columbus was five months pregnant, and her baby was delivered before she was pronounced dead. Her baby is currently being cared for in the NICU.
Powderhorn recently made the news after some residents “informally agreed not to call police.” Fox 9 reports:
Tobie Miller is one of them, and when her home was broken into, her mind turned not to her stolen wallet, but the question of what made someone want to break in in the first place?
“I’m thinking systemically, not in the moment anymore,” Miller said. “I can replace all [my] stuff. [The thief] got some extra money out of it. That’s just what happens, that’s life.”
Miller and many of her neighbors share the feeling that police put people in danger, especially people of color.
“We don’t want to put our neighbors at risk, so if a cat’s up in the tree, maybe I can call the humane society instead of the police,” said Sarah Larsson, a neighbor. “Someone’s having a mental health crisis, maybe I can call someone who’s trained in de-escalation.”
Even in cases of violence, they also question if cops help.
“We’ve had incidents of gunfire in the neighborhood and then those people are gone by the time [police] can get there,” Larsson said. “Increasing a presence of citizens and hopeful and helpful people to engage directly is more of this proactive, preventative force that will reduce those incidents.”
Both women acknowledge this way of thinking won’t be accepted by everyone.
African-Americans suffer disproportionately
They are right. A recent survey by the Huffington Post found that ‘Self-described liberals’ – as I imagine the Powderhorn residents renouncing the police are – supported defunding the police by a margin of 49% over 36%. But they were the only group to do so. Overall, 57% of Americans oppose defunding the police and African-Americans oppose it by a margin of 49% to 29%.
This is because African-Americans are disproportionately the victims of crime. Indeed, at least 13 of the 14 people murdered in Minneapolis since Memorial Day have been Black: Mohamedwelid Mohamud Muse, Daniel J. Mack Jr, Brandon Jerome Salter, Marcus Lashaun Banks Jr, Jeremy Conley, Dameon Chambers, Shateke Jamal Bruce, Diontae Rayquan Wallace, Cody Pollard, Abdihakim Mohamed Areis, Antonio Dewayne Taylor, Larry Borteh, and Leneesha Helen Columbus. It comes as no surprise that the city’s Black community has been pushing back on attempts to abolish the police. The Star Tribune reports:
Egregious, grotesque, absurd, crazy, ridiculous.
These are a handful of the words that some local African American leaders are using to rebuke the Minneapolis City Council’s moves toward dismantling the Police Department, even as they demand an overhaul of law enforcement.
While the movement to defund the police has been driven by Black activists, others say that city politicians rushed the process and failed to include a police chief who has the backing of many Black residents.
“They have shown a complete disregard for the voices and perspectives of many members of the African American community,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “We have not been consulted as the city makes its decisions, even though our community is the one most heavily impacted by both police violence and community violence.”
Yesterday, several community groups held a press conference to ask why the City Council won’t meet with them on police reform and why won’t any of them take a stand against the ongoing violence. Fox 9 reports:
“When the City Council start talking about abolish and dismantling law enforcement it’s destroying, it’s destroying our community right now,” said Al Flowers, a community activist.
“With these calls to abolish the police and no real substantive plan to follow, those words have led some folks in our communities to believe that they have a sort of open season on their enemies,” said Alicia Smith, the executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood.
“It’s time to stand up in this city,” said Lisa Clemons of A Mother’s Love. “It is time to tell council that utopia is a bunch of BS. We are not in Mayberry, we are in the wild, wild west.”
The city council, which has voted to abolish the police department, says it will be replaced by a “new transformative model for cultivating safety”, though nobody is too certain what this means in practice. This perfectly illustrates the pie-in-the-sky nature of this movement. Fox 9 reports:
Miller says she respects people’s fears.
She and Larsson believe their decision is a step toward remaking society for the better.
“People won’t be robbed at gunpoint, because we’ll have started changing systems so people won’t feel the need to rob at gunpoint,” Miller said. “That’s the problem.”
While Minneapolis city council and ‘Self-described liberals’ are dreaming these big dreams, people are dying. How many Black lives will be sacrificed in the search for their utopia?
John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.