What do you do if you’re a Minneapolis City Council member who wants to disband the police department but are concerned about the amount of criticism and threats you’re receiving as a result? It seems kind of hypocritical to ask for police protection when you’ve already come out and said the department shouldn’t exist, right? Far better to have the city hire private security to watch over you, even if it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars a day.
The three council members who have the security detail – Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), and Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4), and Alondra Cano (Ward 9)– have been outspoken proponents of defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.
Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham declined to discuss the security measures.
“I don’t feel comfortable publicly discussing the death threats against me or the level of security I currently have protecting me from those threats,” said Cunningham in a text message.
Cunningham added that the security is temporary.
Councilmember Andrea Jenkins said she has been asking for security since she was sworn in. She said current threats have come in the form of emails, letters, and posts to social media.
“My concern is the large number of white nationalist(s) in our city and other threatening communications I’ve been receiving,” wrote Jenkins in an email.
Councilmember Cano did not return messages seeking comment.
According to Fox 9 in Minneapolis, the security detail for the council members has been in place for several weeks, and has so far cost taxpayers more than $63,000, and the cost goes up by about $4,500 each day. Despite that price tag, the Minneapolis Police Department says no members of the city council has actually reported any specific threats to local law enforcement.
Asked why Minneapolis Police are not providing security services to the three council members, a city spokesperson said MPD resources are needed in the community. The hourly cost of private security is similar to the cost for a police officer, the spokesperson added.
Wait a second. MPD resources are needed in the community? If that’s the case, doesn’t that undercut the position of the city council? After all, they’re claiming that the department is so broken it can’t be reformed and must be abolished. Maybe that’s why it appears that no council members have actually gone to the police to report any threats that they’ve received.
A spokesperson for Minneapolis Police told FOX 9 the department does not have any recent police reports of threats against city council members. It is possible a report could have been filed confidentially.
Jenkins said she has not reported the threats to Minneapolis Police because she has been preoccupied with the dual crisis of the “global pandemic and global uprising” over the killing of George Floyd.
Replacing police officers with armed private security for public officials is a very bad look, especially since one of the complaints by these council members is a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of the Minneapolis Police Department. Private security firms are far less accountable and transparent than a public law enforcement agency, but apparently for council members the most important thing is that the people protecting public officials don’t carry a badge with their gun.
The disclosure of the armed private security comes as the council voted unanimously on Friday to proceed with an attempt to put the abolition of the Minneapolis Police Department to a vote of residents this November. If voters were to approve a change to the city charter, the council could swiftly move to replace the current police department with something they’re calling the “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.”
According to draft language posted online, the new department “will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”
The amendment goes on to say the director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” It also provides for a division of licensed peace officers who would answer to the department’s director.
Council member Phillipe Cunningham said they’re committed to a year-long community process to determine how the new agency would work. “We are not starting from scratch. We are not starting with a completely blank slate,” he said, pointing to changes meant to prevent violence at other law enforcement agencies across the country.
Ten years from now, Council member Steve Fletcher predicted, everybody will be looking to emulate the Minneapolis model.
“The path that we’re going to chart will steal the best ideas from everywhere and combine them in away that is uniquely appropriate to our city,” he said.
In other words, they’re making it up as they go along. So far, the council’s moves have managed to tick off both the police union and anti-police activists who say the proposal either goes too far or doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The board of the city’s police union called the move “irresponsible” without a clear plan for what comes next.
“Politicians are good at making promises, but not at following through on them, and voters should be wary of any promises that delivered by the City Council about how they will figure it out when and if the charter amendment passes,” it said in a statement.
Some activists against police brutality were displeased, too. The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, named for a black man who died in a 2015 confrontation with police, said the amendment would leave power in the hands of the council and mayor’s office, which it said have already failed. The coalition wants the department under community control via a new elected civilian council with the power to hire, fire and prosecute officers.
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, a sharp critic of the department, said the move is premature and counterproductive to building trust with the Black community amid the current uptick in crime.
“There are a lot of people in the African American community who are anxious, who are fearful, who are concerned about the irresponsibility of the Minneapolis City Council and the failure to articulate a clear plan of action on what to expect, and they want an opportunity to weigh in on that,” Armstrong said.
Not only should citizens be weighing on the irresponsibility of the city council, they should say something about the glaring hypocrisy as well. The Minneapolis City Council may not have a clue about what the future of policing will look like if the Minneapolis Police Department is abolished, but they’ve made it clear that whatever they come up with will include plenty of armed security for themselves. They may feel like their lives are at risk, but they’re not calling on a team of tactical social workers to protect them. They want an armed response to potential threats, and I’m guessing most of the residents of Minneapolis feel the same way, even they don’t feel comfortable admitting it.