Minneapolis Council Members Retreat on Police Defunding

Three months ago, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to defund the city’s police department, making a powerful statement that reverberated across the U.S. Now some council members would like a do-over, the New York Times reports. Andrew Johnson, one of the nine members who supported the pledge in June, said he meant the words “in spirit,” not by the letter. Another member, Philippe Cunningham, said the language in the pledge was “up for interpretation” and that even among council members, “it was very clear that most of us had interpreted that language differently.” Council President Lisa Bender said, “I think our pledge created confusion in the community and in our wards.”

A retreat has quietly played out in Minneapolis since George Floyd was killed and the national uproar over the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement and by the nation at large. Now, national polls show decreasing support for Black Lives Matter since a sea change of good will in June. In Minneapolis, far-reaching policy efforts meant to address police violence have all but collapsed. Elected officials, protesters and community leaders say the City Council members’ pledge to “end policing as we know it” became a case study in how quickly political winds can shift.  The pledge is now no closer to becoming policy, with fewer champions than ever. It has been rejected by the city’s mayor, a plurality of residents in public opinion polls and an increasing number of community groups. Taking its place have been the types of incremental reforms that the city’s progressive politicians had denounced.