The first resident to take the mic at the city of Minneapolis’ budget hearing on Wednesday night was Black Visions Collective activist Kandace Montgomery.
She approached the podium in a black T-shirt, emerging from a crowd of people holding signs that read “FUND OUR COMMUNITIES, NOT COPS.”
She was there, she explained, on behalf of Reclaim the Block: a grassroots organization that wants to see a different kind of budget next year. A budget that gives less money to the Minneapolis Police Department.
“This year, we have an opportunity to transform the lives of thousands,” she says. “The Minneapolis Police Department has shown us how they do business. They’ve had 150 years to build trust with our communities, and they haven’t done it.”
Instead, she says, they’ve seen people injected with ketamine and the deaths of Thurman Blevins and Travis Jordan at the hands of police officers. Meanwhile, she says, organizations that provide health and housing services “literally beg for crumbs year after year.”
There is “nothing progressive,” she says, about a city council that continues to prop up that system.
Reclaim the Block has been making this argument for a while, and its members came before the council with a list of concrete demands. They want to put $1 million from the police’s budget into existing violence prevention programs. They want $6 million that would have been spent on the department’s “Community and Collaborative Advancement Program” (a relatively new division focused on smoothing over relationships between police and residents) to be spent on affordable housing instead.
And, on top of that, they want to invest 5 percent of the police department’s budget (about $9 million) in community health and violence prevention programs that normally have to rely on sporadic, one-time handouts from the city.
Montgomery was optimistic about the support they’d have in the room that night – she and fellow organizers were expecting 100 attendees to arrive in solidarity with their cause. As the meeting went on, dozens of people milled through the aisles in the council chambers looking for seats. Many were escorted to overflow rooms, to wait for extra chairs to be fetched.
After Montgomery was done speaking, the overflow room burst into a round of applause.
Not everyone agrees with Reclaim the Block’s premise that the city could live – and live better – with less of a police presence. Minneapolis Police Union told Fox 9 that the department is understaffed already for a city of Minneapolis’ size.
“They’re thinking of those immediate needs,” Montgomery says – fretting about controlling theft and violence. But if they want to move forward as a city, she says, they need to think more about addressing the “reasons people commit crimes in the first place.” Hunger. Homelessness. Addiction. Poverty.
Spending money on police, she says, doesn’t address any of those problems. And, she argues, it only really protects “a certain class and a certain race,” namely “upper” and “white.”
Resident after resident took the mic after Montgomery that night, saying that they have a right to affordable housing and a right to not be killed by police, a right to more robust services for their communities, a right to shape the future safety of their city. They were each thanked and sat down without another word.