The recent increase in peaceful protests against police brutality clearly shows that the American people want change, and the Minneapolis City Council attempted to initiate that change by revamping the policing structure last June. However, the Minneapolis Charter Commission, a group of 15 people appointed by the Hennepin District Court, blocked that attempt. In doing so, they prevented the people, represented by the City Council, from controlling their own government. They prevented our democracy from being truly representative, and they did so lawfully.
Last June, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests against police brutality, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to include a proposal to amend Section VII of the city’s charter on the November 3rd ballot. This proposal would have replaced the police department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention and given the City Council most of the control over the new department. It still leaves room for a police department; however, this potential department would be under the authority of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. Additionally, and most importantly, the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention would have “…[prioritized] a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” A measure like this one, which would essentially be a step to defund the police – a reform protestors nationwide have been asking for – is a perfect example of the government responding to the needs of its people. It is representative democracy at work.
However, any potential amendments to the Minneapolis charter must be reviewed by the city’s charter commission before they reach the ballot.
On August 5, the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted 10-5 to take 90 more days to review the City Council’s proposal. As a result of this decision, the proposal will not appear on the ballot when it likely would have otherwise. The City Council, while required to consult the Charter Commission when making changes to the Minneapolis Charter, is not bound to the latter group’s decision. However, by postponing a final decision on the matter, the Charter Commission prevented the proposal from making the August 21 deadline for adding items to the ballot. This means that, as per the city’s charter, the City Council will continue to be required to fully fund the police department until at least November of 2021, which is when the proposal will likely appear on the ballot if City Council members continue to push for it to appear next year.
Surely, this is an undemocratic action on the part of the Minneapolis Charter Commission. They have blocked the City Council from acting in the best interest of their constituents, which is not formally in their power. The source of their authority to block this initiative is timing alone. Had this proposal been presented just three months earlier – a short time compared to the decades people have been fighting for changes like this – it might have been on the ballot this year. But this undemocratic maneuver on the part of the Charter Commission does not mean there is nowhere to go from here. In fact, the fight is far from over.
It is thought that the council might attempt to form the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention with the requirement in place, and the original writers of the proposal are pledging to push for the proposal to appear on the November ballot of 2021. There is still hope for reform, just, perhaps, at a later time. So, we need to continue to push our representatives to initiate change. We, the people, must continue to fight.