After George Floyd, Who Will Police Minneapolis?
To begin, two tales of Twin Cities police.
First, Donn Landrum. The fifty-three-year-old served three foreign tours in the Navy, discharged right before the Gulf War. Thanks to his military experience, he quickly found work in private security after that. Landrum, who is black, grew up in Chicago—and still wears a Bulls jersey—but has lived in Minneapolis since 1987. While working, he eventually went back to school and obtained a bachelor’s degree so that he could enroll in the city’s police academy, which he did in 2008.
He quit within six weeks. “The disparities in how they treated black people were just too big,” he told me. “It was my deep feeling that it couldn’t be changed.”
He returned to the private sector, working for various security firms over the years. One of his colleagues in 2017 was George Floyd. “A really nice guy,” he recalled. “Never started anything.” Landrum attended Floyd’s funeral last month.
Second, Clarence Castile. He is the uncle of Philando, who was infamously murdered by police in 2016 in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. The sixty-year-old works as a landscaper, but at the time of his nephew’s death, he was well on his way to his certification as a reserve police officer in St. Paul. He went ahead and completed it, and took up a volunteer post that requires a hundred hours of service per year, usually to assist in tasks like traffic control for public events. Today, Castile wears the same blue uniform as regular cops, but does not carry a firearm.
“I had a moment of reflection when that happened, for sure, when I didn’t think I could go through with it,” he told me. “We saw seven bullets get emptied into his [Philando’s] body. I was so angry; I hated cops. But it wasn’t all cops who killed my nephew… I had friends from high school who became cops and they cried with me, in their uniforms,” he went on. “My family doesn’t hate cops. If we turn angry and stay angry, all it would do is fuel other people’s anger.”
Those two accounts go to the heart of a raging debate in Minneapolis over whether to reform or abolish the city’s police department in the wake of the protests over George Floyd’s murder that have shaken the nation, and the world beyond. When nine members of the City Council stood together in a park on Sunday June 7, a fortnight after Floyd’s killing, and announced their intent to “disband” the department, it seemed like an astonishing victory for the popular uprising. The council members stated simply that “The Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions.” Even after the heat of that moment, every single member of the council
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Then, just nine months before Floyd’s murder, a coalition including CUAPB issued fourteen proposed changes to the contract between the police department and the city. Their proposals were fairly wonky—such as calling for officers to be penalized for bad behavior through a new “disciplinary matrix” of measures—and the were far from radical, including items such as capping officers’ work hours to limit fatigue and making mental health screenings mandatory. In March, the coalition revealed that its members had been shut out of City Council discussions, an exclusion that only intensified as the pandemic and lockdown took hold.
Acknowledging such setbacks, Sheila Nezhad, another Reclaim the Block organizer, admitted during a recent webinar that if the council stalled past the August deadline, activists would have to gear up for at least another year of pressure. For its part,
While the council famously had a “veto-proof majority” of nine when it announced its commitment to dismantle the police, Mayor Jacob Frey has dismissed proposals to rewrite the charter and rejected the concept of defunding the police in general. But a recent national poll from
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Krithika Varagur is an American writer and journalist, generally based in Indonesia. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The New Republic, among other publications.
Co-published with The New York Review of Books.