As It Happens

'We're not abolishing safety': Minneapolis councillor explains plan to dismantle police

A Minneapolis city councillor says its police force is beyond repair and that defunding and dismantling it entirely is the only way to provide an appropriate shift toward improving public safety in their community.

'We're abolishing a broken system that hasn't produced the results our community wants,' Alondra Cano says

Minneapolis Coun. Alondra Cano, seen in this January file photo, is one of nine council members who have vowed to dismantle the city's police department. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

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A Minneapolis city councillor says her city's police force is beyond repair, and defunding and dismantling it entirely is the only way to provide an appropriate shift toward improving public safety in the community.   

Alondra Cano is one of nine councillors who voted on Sunday to scrap the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) following the murder of George Floyd. 

"That's the minute I realized that our system was never going to be repairable," Cano said. 

Derek Chauvin, a white former police officer, has been charged with second-degree murder after he knelt on a handcuffed Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes until he lost consciousness and ultimately died. Three other officers who responded to the call — J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. 

The state of Minnesota launched a civil rights investigation into the police department last week, and the first concrete changes came Friday when the city agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints. 

While Cano admits that she doesn't have all the answers when it comes to what will replace the MPD, she says communities will be prioritized, unlike under "the current policing system that has been created out of slavery and colonization." 

Here is part of Cano's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

What convinced you and others that the Minneapolis Police Department was beyond repair and should be dismantled?

The events of Monday night. As we woke up to a video documenting the murder of a man in the middle of the day who was already handcuffed and an officer is the person who committed the crime. This officer wasn't using a gun. This officer wasn't using a [baton]. This officer was using his knee. 

Additionally, three other officers who witnessed and participated in the event did not intervene, even though the man on the ground multiple times called for help, but he couldn't breathe.

That's the minute I realized that our system was never going to be repairable, that we needed to shift dramatically in the course of public safety because that specific system was not responding to the needs and the outcomes that we had been trying to do through reform. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey looks over a demonstration calling for the Minneapolis Police Department to be defunded on Thursday. Frey spoke at the head of the march, but was asked to leave by the organizers after declining to commit to fully defunding the MPD. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

We know that in Minneapolis, there have been previous occasions when excessive use of force by police has been an issue. The city council has attempted to change things, but it doesn't happen. So what is it about this occasion that makes you think you have the political momentum to make these changes?

One thing we saw is that the video documented by residents in the area illustrated the deep problems that serve as the glue for these systems to not change, to not transform. 

We now have a super-majority on the city council who [are] publicly committed to beginning the process to end our current policing system and to work hand-in-hand with our community to come up with a new system of redefining and reclaiming public safety, to establish a new future for our city.   

Your declaration and the councillors who voted for this have been accused of just playing with optics, that this is just appearances and there's really not that much you can do. What exactly are you proposing to replace your police department with? 

We're proposing to put a plan together with our community. So the plan is, we come up with a plan together. It won't be a top-down plan. It won't be a plan that we've inherited, such as the current policing system that has been created out of slavery and colonization. 

We know that our community has a lot of the answers and we've built some of those mechanisms already, whether it's the Office of Violence Prevention, our mental health correspondent program, diverting 911 calls to other response personnel outside of armed police officers.

All of those things are part of the ecosystem that we know will continue to thrive and grow as soon as we invest more resources into it. We're now in the minutia of figuring out what that is, and after our mayor gives us an amended budget, we get to decide if we approve it, change it, or reject it altogether.

So within the next 30 to 45 days, the council will be taking a budget vote to signal strongly and concretely the commitment we have to the values that we presented with our community members on Sunday. 

Demonstrators march against racism and police brutality and to defund the MPD on Thursday in Minneapolis. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)

You mentioned the mayor [Jacob Frey] who has been a very vocal supporter of the protests and he has been very critical of the police department. But he says that dismantling the force in Minneapolis is a bad idea. He's proposing a huge cultural shift in how the department functions, but not a dismantling. What do you say to the mayor? 

We need to stop using the word reform. That is a trigger word for our communities that is loaded with trauma and failed attempts at protecting the lives of people of colour and African-American people specifically. 

This is why so many of us are unflinchingly committed to deconstructing that system altogether and creating a new system from the ground up with our communities. Step by step, reclaiming the conversation around public safety. 

The things that happened with our mayor [who was booed by protesters after refusing to commit to defunding the police department] to me indicate we need a truth and reconciliation community engagement process that is outside of protesting, that is outside of press conferences, and is a third space where we are talking deeply with one another about the hurt and the harm.

What I can tell you is we're not abolishing safety. We're not abolishing protection. We're abolishing a broken system that hasn't produced the results that our community and our officers want. 

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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