Public Safety Voices in Minneapolis

Minneapolis received a lot of attention in 2020 for public safety. Some believe stronger law enforcement is needed to combat crime. Others recognize that preventing crime and enhancing public safety is about much more than putting people in jail. Guest editor Cirien Saadeh and associate editor Lydia Moran talked to a few women who represent different approaches to community safety.

Sasha Cotton, Director of the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), City of Minneapolis

Sasha Cotton. Photo by Sarah Whiting

The goal of public safety should be work- ing towards having happy, healthy, hopeful communities. It feels like a journey with a two-pronged approach.

We have upfront, in- the-moment programs that help people mitigate the circumstances of violence as they are experiencing them. We also have to think about prevention, recognizing that a lot of the root causes of violence are systemic and disproportionately impact those who have been historically marginalized in our communities. A lot of our work is about trying to strike that balance.

Growing up in a home where violence is prevalent makes you more vulnerable to becoming violent yourself, or accepting violence as a norm. Exposure has significance. There is also an educational outcome. Education, mental health issues, and poverty — all play a key role in how a person can become more vulnerable or susceptible to the impacts of violence.

Much like a communicable disease, we want to think about treatment and prevention. How do we work with families to ensure that children are not exposed to domestic violence? How do we work with schools to make sure that students who are more vulnerable are getting the additional resources they need to be successful? How do we plan for summer jobs and engagement for teenagers so that they do not have idle time that can lead to distractions? All of those things are critical to the public health approach to violence.

Our programs include Group Violence Intervention, which brings together community, social services, and law enforcement to “send a clear and compelling message to members of groups and gangs that you are valuable, people care about you, you are an important part of the community. But you [groups and gangs] are also contributing to making this community really unsafe.”

OVP’s hospital-based intervention program, Next Step, provides bedside intervention for anyone under the age of 30 who comes into the Trauma 1 units at Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial Health Hospital with a serious injury from violence.

Before the program was implemented, a person could get shot, go to the hospital, get stitched up, and be out of the hospital in four hours. In that time no one is ever asking: How can we help you? Do you have a safe place to go right now? Do you have a ride home? Do you have a job if you want one? Do you have a home to go back to?

Next Step uses a trauma-informed lens to work with the victim and the victim’s family to navigate the hospital system. In addition to bedside counseling, Next Step provides case management for victims to connect with employment, education, mentorship, housing, and mental health resources. Getting basic needs met can help a person get centered enough to think about what they want their life to look like aside from this perpetual state of violence.

Details: “A Public Health Approach to Violence” a two-part audio conversation with Sasha Cotton.

Andrea Jenkins, Ward 8 Council Vice President, City of Minneapolis

Andrea Jenkins
Andrea Jenkins
photo Rodel Querubin

My vision is a continuum of public safety that has a separate mental health response. We know that so many of our jails here, and all around the country, are essentially mental health hospitals. We need to have a much broader societal response to helping people deal with chronic and severe mental health issues, as well as immediate mental health crises that often end with people losing their lives.

It would have to include fairness and justice in our economic systems. A big part of what is driving crime in our society is the imbalance in resources that people have. It is a destructive reality of capitalism — the violent [results] of capitalism.

We need to have full medical coverage for everybody. It should not be tied to a job. People should have access to medical care. We need to have a housing continuum that respects the humanity of everybody, and provides safe and affordable housing.

We need a professional, well-trained, highly accountable, community-controlled police force to investigate crimes and hold people accountable for breaking the law. If we are a nation of laws, and laws are the things that attempt to keep and hold our democracy together, then we need a system to enforce those laws. It is a very fragile system right now.

Kenzie O’Keefe, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Pillsbury United Communities (PUC)

Kenzie O’Keefe

For me, and for PUC, we talk about public safety in the context of a community where all people, regardless of identity, are able to live their lives without fear for their physical, emotional, or psychological safety at the hands of other community members, police, or other institutions. I think most of us would agree at this point in the Twin Cities that we are far from that.

I think we get there by addressing poverty and lessening the desperation that often leads to higher levels of violence. That means more actually affordable housing and comprehensive, holistic health care. It means having access to living wage jobs. It means creating economic opportunities for folks through education and support for small businesses, particularly small businesses owned by people of color.

And it means neighborhood development that invests without displacing, so that folks can build wealth and access everything that makes life easier in their neighborhoods. We need real systemic change to policing. We are not going to have communities in which all people feel safe until we radically transform policing. What that looks like is to be determined. But we are past the point of small reform. We need to think about systems level transformation.

Details: Pillsbury United “Reimagine Public Safety” docu-series, pillsburyunited.org