On Friday, while the discovery of a liquor and Taki-festooned Christmas tree in a Minneapolis Police Department precinct office was still raising eyebrows, the Minneapolis City Council members agreed to give the department’s budget $1 million less than originally planned.
The cut was included on a budget amendment co-authored by City Council Members Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham, which passed 9-2. It took $1.1 million away from the Minneapolis Police Department’s planned budget, which would have put eight new officers on the streets, and put it toward a variety of “community-driven public safety programs” instead. Programs include the Next Step Youth Violence program, Domestic Violence Outreach, and a new Office of Violence Prevention, among others.
It’s a point of celebration for Reclaim the Block, a grassroots organization that has been trying to divest the police department’s budget into crime and violence prevention programs. Organizer Kandace Montgomery says it feels “really great” -- a positive outcome to not only Reclaim the Block’s demonstrations but the past five years or so of activism.
“This is one step in the right direction,” she says.
It’s a step that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Minds have been changed over the course of the last few months; Cunningham himself had actually requested the addition of eight new officers in the first place, on the basis that officers were already putting in too much overtime. But a lot has happened since then.
“I had no idea when I made this original request that there were going to be two officer-involved shootings along with other major incidents in my ward,” he said at a City Council meeting on Friday. “It felt absolutely necessary for me to re-evaluate it.”
The budget change does not give Reclaim the Block everything they wanted. The group’s demands included a divestment of 5 percent of the police department’s total budget, which would have been about $9 million. When all is said and done, the police department’s budget this year is still larger than it is last year.
There’s enough disappointment to go around. There were a fair number of impassioned voices against Reclaim the Block’s demands, too -- people who believed the police department was already underfunded, that places like North Minneapolis needed more police presence, not less.
Fletcher’s response to those voices is that the city’s investment in public safety has not been reduced “at all.”
“We just redistributed some of those dollars from the [police department] to public safety programs,” he says. This, he and Cunningham explained at the meeting, was already explained to the police department and the mayor, so no one was being “blindsided” by this.
“I would say it was a blindside to some of us,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said during the meeting. She went on to explain that there was nothing on Cunningham and Fletcher’s list of violence prevention programs that she didn’t support. But taking that funding from the police department, she said, felt “retaliatory.” She and Council Member Linea Palmisano were the two dissenting votes.
Montgomery says the continued growth of the police budget is “frustrating and disappointing.” She thinks that the police department still has a lot of unchecked power over city government, and that it will take a lot of coordinated effort on behalf of civilians to counteract that power.
But Reclaim the Block, she says, is a movement led by black people -- and primarily young black people. The neighborhoods in question are primarily their neighborhoods, the future in question is their future. Every dollar that wasn’t spent on police because of that amendment is going to be spent on programs she hopes will make police less necessary.
The question now, for her and other organizers, is how to keep this going.