Minneapolis (Alpha News) – As documented in the just-released movie “The Fall of Minneapolis,” during the riots following the death of George Floyd, protesters attacked and burned down the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis. In the three years since, there has been continued debate about if, and where, to rebuild the station, with some community members saying they want no police station at all, and others saying they could be appeased with a mixed-use building that includes other public safety and social services as well.
Last month, three City Council members attended a public safety meeting held by the Longfellow Community Council to answer questions and provide information about the city’s plan to rebuild the Third Precinct on Minnehaha Avenue. They met in a neighborhood community center and engaged with a vocal and energetic crowd of about 50 people. From the questions and comments, you could tell that calling this an anti-police crowd would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that every person in this room had an intense, visceral hatred of police, and most of them probably do not want police to exist at all.
Reflecting that sentiment, a major part of this discussion centered around whether this new building is going to be a “Community Safety Center” or a “Police Station,” or both. The city’s announcement of the plan says the building will include both, and will include “comprehensive safety services.” The meeting’s announcement advertised that it would help the public answer, “What is the difference between a Safety Center and a Police Station?”
In one of the first comments during the Q&A session, a woman told the council members, “As someone whose property was destroyed the same night as the Third Precinct, I am very frustrated that this is happening before healing has been offered to people that were harmed by everything MPD has done.” One might have thought from her opening line that this is someone very concerned with safety and being protected from rioters by police, but that was not the case.
Soon after, another attendee asked, “What data or clear outcomes can you point to that lead you to be certain that MPD won’t continue to be violent and brutalize and inflict racist practices on our residents?” To which another audience member replied, “I think you all are gambling with our lives, and that’s not fair!” This was just one of many interjections and comments that made it clear that the attendees generally do not want police around at all, or a police station in their neighborhood.
One man who said he is a retired minister with experience in four medium-sized cities told the audience, “I can say from experience that the police have a vision of their service as based on their guns. It’s a violent force, and if you respect them, then you get service. But they also see community service as a non-equal. They are not equal to their power because community services are a soft power, and soft power is pushed around by guns … It’s like the crocodile carrying the bunny across the river. The bunny ain’t gonna make it.”
Comments like these drew many affirmations, and also snaps from the audience. The more anti-police the comment was, the more hateful toward police the statement was, the more cheers, affirmations, and snaps they got. It sometimes seemed like each person was trying to one-up the last in their anti-police rhetoric and was being rewarded for it.
There also seemed to be some level of cognitive dissonance about the distinction between a “safety center” and a police station. On one hand, the entire reason that Minneapolis has to balance placing some type of social services that fall under the umbrella of “safety” in a police precinct is that many community members and several City Council members have been very vocal that they object to a traditional, stand-alone police station in their community. A rebuilt Third Precinct that simply recreates the previous police station has been met with substantial resistance for three years.
On the other hand, you could tell from this meeting that the idea of having to go into a building that houses a police station, of being near and walking by police to access social services, is very upsetting to many people. That opinion seemed to be unanimous. One man in attendance told the panel of council members, “I wouldn’t go to get social services from a place where there’s cops. I wouldn’t feel safe.” Another said, “Some of you may want police. I imagine a future without them. I imagine a future where my neighbors who are houseless, who are dealing with chemical dependency, who are dealing with intergenerational poverty, will not have to walk into a police station [to get help].” Many snaps ensued.
In response to a number of questions along these lines and to many people angrily asking why this building is even going to have police in it, the council members present made it clear that they sympathized and identified with the residents’ concerns, that they were skeptical of the value of a police precinct in the neighborhood, and that they are generally distrustful of the police. They shared the general reluctance of the audience regarding the very presence of a police station in their wards.
Much of the discussion was led by Robin Wonsley, a Democratic Socialist who represents Ward 2. Council member Wonsley responded to several of the questions and comments that, unfortunately, the City Council’s “hands are tied” so they cannot simply eliminate police due to staffing mandates in the city charter.
Perhaps the best representation of the tone of the evening was a man in his 50s who was wearing scrubs and told the panel that he had just gotten off work as a nurse. “I’ve been working in this town for over 20 f—in’ years, and nothing has changed. And let’s get really honest here: people say that the reason Chauvin’s in jail is because of the video. Bulls—t. There’s been video of cops murdering people all over this f—in’ country, and they didn’t get anybody arrested. The only f—in’ reason that Chauvin’s in jail is because of the f—in’ Third Precinct being burned down, and that’s the f—in’ truth!” This received heavy applause and snaps.
The meeting adjourned by noting that this is just the first of many information sessions that city leaders will have with the public as the new Third Precinct and Community Safety Center are being built.
Based on this meeting, the overall feeling among active community members is not one of relief or gratitude of finally having police officers present to ensure their safety, but rather one of deep resentment and bitterness that they are returning at all. If there are residents who feel differently, they appear to not be present, and their voices are not being heard.
This article originally appeared at Alpha News.