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A protest in Cleveland

A Black Lives Matter supporter holds an "End Police Brutality" sign as people march at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Photo: Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images)

Major Police Overhaul Goes Down in Minneapolis, But Austin and Cleveland Advocates Notch Wins

"It's a long road to liberation and our journey doesn't begin or end with Question 2," said one campaign group in Minneapolis.

Julia Conley

Advocates of a push to amend Minneapolis' city charter and replace the city's police department with a "public health-oriented" Department of Public Safety were undeterred from their fight for far-reaching reform on Wednesday after their proposal failed to win a majority of voters' support, while activists in other U.S. cities celebrated victories against powerful law enforcement structures.

"Regardless of tonight's outcome, there's broad agreement that Minneapolis residents want more tools for public safety. There's also consensus that the status quo is not an option."

 

The grassroots group Black Visions Collective applauded the "historic" Yes on 2 campaign, which helped push nearly 44% of Minneapolis voters to support Question 2 after launching a petition to demand the question be included on the ballot.

"Despite an aggressive oppositional campaign, resourced by the Police Federation, corporate-backed white liberals like Jacob Frey and conservative black elites, the people of Minneapolis fought for and won the chance to take back our power," said Black Visions Collective. "It's a long road to liberation and our journey doesn't begin or end with Question 2."
 
"Passing legislation or electing candidates isn't our only measure of success," the group continued. "Our people reclaiming their ability to govern is a victory. Our people reclaiming their ability to name safety is a victory. Our people committing to moving toward a world beyond police is a victory."
 
Garnering the support of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the ACLU, and national grassroots organization People's Action, the Yes on 2 campaign pushed to end minimum police staffing numbers for Minneapolis and to give the City Council oversight over a proposed Department of Public Safety. According to the language on the ballot, the department's public health-focused staff "could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary."
 

"You actually can staff the department the way that meets the needs of the people," campaign spokesperson JaNaé Bates told NPR in October. "We wanted to really be centered and focused on the safety of human beings."

Proponents of bold reforms to policing applauded the campaign for the traction it managed to gain in the city.

"In the dead of winter, organizers collected 22,000 signatures from across the city to put this amendment on the ballot," said People's Action Movement Politics director Brooke Adams and TakeAction Minnesota executive director Elianne Farhat. "Black organizers and activists have worked toward this for years before 2020, and the work for a better future where everyone can feel safe in their communities will continue."

"Regardless of tonight's outcome, there's broad agreement that Minneapolis residents want more tools for public safety," added Adams and Farhat. "There's also consensus that the status quo is not an option."

Radley Balko, author of "Rise of the Warrior Cop" and a Washington Post columnist, called the level of support campaigners garnered for a "radical reorganization" of policing in Minneapolis "pretty remarkable."

The demand for an end to the status quo regarding policing was evident in a number of other cities including Austin, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to hire hundreds more police officers—which would have required major budget cuts in other areas including firefighting, emergency health services, and libraries, according to opponents.

"It's past time we as a society reimagine the role of police."

Sixty-eight percent of Austin voters rejected Proposition A, which was pushed by Save Austin Now, a group co-founded by the Travis County Republican Party chair. The group raised $1.7 million in its effort to add to the city's 1,600-strong police force.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, said the election reaffirmed "our community's belief that public safety for all requires a comprehensive system that includes properly staffing our police, but also our fire, EMS, and mental health responses as well."

"Austin's culture and values were on the ballot tonight," Adler said on Election Night. "At our core, we are an innovative, caring, and creative community."
 
With the corporate media widely reporting that police reform was rejected in Minneapolis, ACLU deputy national political director Udi Ofer predicted that Proposition A's defeat in Austin—by a wider margin—would receive little national attention.
 

Voters in Cleveland, Ohio also made clear their demand for more police accountability, approving a plan to establish a Civilian Police Review Board that would investigate reports of police misconduct. The proposal, known as Issue 24, passed by a margin of 59% to 41%.

The measure was endorsed by groups including Black Lives Matter Cleveland and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, as well as Cleveland Mayor-elect Justin Bibb, a Democrat who won his election Tuesday night.

"We can't keep making this a false choice between good and effective law enforcement and police accountability," Bibb told local news outlet 3News. "We can do both. I believe trust is the biggest thing to do to make sure we have safety and security and residents trust police. Without it, you don't get safety."

Jeff Follmer, president of the local police union, accused Cleveland voters of approving a "vengeful" initiative that would "be the downfall of Cleveland." Issue 24 was proposed months after the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Cleveland officers in the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.

 
"We are grateful for the generosity, courage, and leadership that the directly impacted families have shown in heralding this historic change for Cleveland," said the ACLU of Ohio. "It's past time we as a society reimagine the role of police."

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