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How Minneapolis is trying to reimagine the future of policing

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, calls have grown for that city to overhaul its police department. Now, the effort to “dismantle the police department as we know it” has gained the support of a majority of city council members. What does that mean in terms of actual policy? Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by police.

    Since his death, a movement to — quote — "dismantle" the police department as we know it has grown stronger. And it has the support of a majority of City Council members.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro takes a look at what this might mean.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    As fire and rage overwhelmed long stretches of the Lake Street Business District late last month, Minneapolis City Councillor Alondra Cano says residents of her ward took matters into their own hands, trying to salvage what little they could. She livestreamed their effort on Facebook.

  • Alondra Cano:

    And we started with, you know, small, small buckets of water and throwing them at the building. And then finally the neighbors from the other block had access to an old fire hose and were able to open the fire hydrant there.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    When they finally heard from law enforcement, Cano says, it was with flashbangs and tear gas, imposing the strict no exceptions curfew.

    She says such experiences have given swift rise to a movement and the slogan defund the police. The sentiment is plastered across the city and a veto-proof majority of the City Council committed itself to — quote — "ending the Minneapolis Police Department."

  • Sam Gould:

    Hey, everyone. We need to organize our own. And no one else is coming to our aid.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Using social media, community organizers like Sam Gould brought huge crowds to the Powderhorn neighborhood park the first morning after protests began.

  • Sam Gould:

    It's now up to the people to inform themselves and set the agenda of what a police-free future is.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Schoolteacher Jessica Mueller.

  • Jessica Mueller:

    If anything is going to happen to keep us safe and to keep us as a solid community, it's going to have to come up from within the community. So the last people that we feel safe with right now are the MPD, who we pay.

  • Phillipe Cunningham:

    I like to more specifically think about it as reimagining public safety.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Phillipe Cunningham serves the city's Fourth Ward.

  • Phillipe Cunningham:

    At the end of the day, we want to make sure that, when anyone calls 911, that they have the most appropriate response to their emergency crisis, and that they are being kept safe.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    He says that response could be from a social worker, mental health professional or armed cops, when that is deemed appropriate, say, a shooting or armed robbery.

    The Council plans to initiate a long process, including likely a referendum to change the city's charter. That would allow it to shift some of the $193 million annual police department budget to community-based programs.

    Councillors say they want to address underlying problems, like homelessness and other symptoms of poverty that drive crime and violence.

    Critics of the Council's move say they are alarmed by the lack of details or time frame.

    Steve Cramer with a downtown business association says it sends the wrong message to the economically vital companies and sports venues who want to reassure customers, employees and fans that the downtown is safe.

  • Steve Cramer:

    There's no plan. There's no plan to make a plan. Yet there's this very provocative headline out there, kind of a talking point, that's created a huge vacuum that people are filling with their — either their best aspirations or their worst fears.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Others worry about morale in the Minneapolis Police Department, troubled for years by officer-involved shootings and allegations of misconduct.

    Thirteen officers have either quit or are in the process of resigning since George Floyd's killing. Another group published its own open letter condemning the actions of their former colleague Derek Chauvin.

  • Rich Stanek:

    Ninety-nine percent of those police officers go to work every day with the right attitude and the right mind-set.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Rich Stanek is a former Minneapolis cop, Republican state legislator and former sheriff of Hennepin County, which includes the city.

  • Rich Stanek:

    They are being attacked from every angle, by the elected officials, the residents themselves, others across the country whom they have never met. It's going to be hard to overcome a rebuild.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    However, police officers enjoy significant protection from laws that allow wide latitude in the use of force and powerful unions, which have lobbied successfully for state laws against residency requirements; 93 percent of Minneapolis police officers live outside the city.

    And only a tiny fraction of the city's police officers who are brought up on misconduct charges face any discipline, and their disciplinary records are kept from public view.

  • Joshua Page:

    So it's been very difficult to hold officers accountable, for the chief to fire officers that he or she finds problematic because of their behavior.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    University of Minnesota sociologist Joshua Page says that behavior also reflects what he calls an entrenched warrior culture in American policing.

    But Page says the George Floyd case, vividly on video, has moved to white American attitudes like none before it.

  • Joshua Page:

    A look of impunity. It generated a lot of rage. I think white people, including myself, are being forced to see the things that people in certain communities have known.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    That might bode well for reform in public safety approaches, he says. Still, the process will take time and won't be easy, even among the Powderhorn neighbors looking to rely more on each other, and less on 911.

  • Huda:

    Most of the people, that 1,000 that came, were white. And this neighborhood is not a white neighborhood.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Huda, who wanted only her first name used, said it is racially diverse and divided by class and different priorities.

  • Huda:

    To be honest, the very first things that people were talking about were property. And I was like, great, my apartment might burn down. But I'm also concerned for my own safety and for the safety of people who look like me.

    And I haven't heard a single one of you mention that.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    These neighbors agree that rooting out ingrained biases will be a challenge. So too might be sustaining an entire community's interest in police reform, amid historic events like a pandemic and a presidential election.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Minneapolis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fred's reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

    President Trump is expected to sign an executive order tomorrow on policing that will focus on issues of training and information-sharing. But administration officials said that it is not expected to address systemic racism in law enforcement.

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