VIEW: A 2003 Police Reform Effort Regroups

Alicia Gibson has lived in South Africa and studied the Truth and Reconciliation Process, worked in the field of environmental and federal Indian law, served as a district court law clerk, and taught critical thinking and writing at the university level.

In November, voters in Minneapolis rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated the police department. For many voters, particularly those in immigrant and African American neighborhoods, the proposal did not adequately address the very real need to keep their communities safe. As I spoke to these community members in the run-up to the vote, they pointed out that a new system could be worse rather than better. 

We find ourselves three months out from that vote, and the need for substantive community-based public policy reform enters a new level of urgency with another police-involved killing of a young Black man in Minneapolis, as well as ongoing historic rates of violent crime hitting predominantly Black communities the hardest and ending the dreams of too many at too young an age.

One group of community leaders has been laying the groundwork for meeting this moment for over 20 years. They first organized in 2003 as the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC) in federally-mandated mediation with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). They saw some successes in police accountability, but the city did not renew the contract needed to keep the mediation going.

After the murder of George Floyd, community members involved in that earlier work returned to the Memorandum of Agreement negotiated with police and city representatives to understand what was adopted and what more can be done today. As a primarily African American and Native-led effort, they intentionally expanded their scope to include East African, Latino, and Asian community leaders to form the Unity Community Mediation Team (UCMT). They also decided to include young people as a vital voice at the table. From that partnership the Young People’s Task Force emerged.

Last week — after two years of UCMT members meeting with federal investigators, political representatives, police department and police union leaders, and updating their list of police reform recommendations — the PCRC negotiation process was re-started under the leadership of MPD’s Interim Chief Amelia Huffman.

Unlike last time, the Minneapolis Federation of Police is also partnering in the effort.

Interim Chief Huffman acknowledged that the work will not be easy, and members may get up from the table in frustration from time to time, but she committed MPD to staying with the process because the relationships between community and police need repair and staying the course is the only answer.

Two women who will be at the table as UCMT members are Dr. Ora Hokes, a community elder, and her teenaged granddaughter LaZya Smith. Along with its history of constructive dialogue and action, the intergenerational nature of the UCMT approach makes them unique among the police reform groups.

When asked about the importance of intergenerational collaboration, Hokes explains that, for many in the African American community, deep and sustained relationships between elders and youth is part of their cultural heritage, particularly in Black churches where intergenerational dialogue is a common practice. “Knowing each other’s joys as well as our pain is how we keep ourselves healthy in mind, body, and spirit,” Hokes says.

Smith indicates this is how the community has survived with resilience over time, and how they will continue: “If we don’t pass on the knowledge, it will be lost. You don’t want your children and descendants to be lost. I want my [future] granddaughter to be doing this work. And even [if there was not] injustice to fight, the love and support between the generations is needed.”

As we come to a close on Black History Month for 2022, Hokes reminds us that “we are Black 365 days a year.”

Carrying the heavy burdens of our country’s, our state’s, and our local community’s inequities, the work of the UCMT reminds us that the work of addressing our nation’s founding injustices — including reforming our practice of policing — will also continue.


Excerpts from “UCMT Draft Memorandum of Agreement,” October 16, 2021

find full version here

We, the Unity Community Mediation Team offer the following 12/4/2003 MOA amendment language to be considered for mediation with the MPD. 

As community leaders and MPD leaders we have chosen to seize this moment to reach out to each other. This is not the end of all our problems or concerns. This is not an end to anger and frustration. This is a beginning—an opportunity to build a bridge of understanding between the MPD and the community that can improve law enforcement/keeping of the peace, and improve public safety, public health, and improve community cooperation with law enforcement. Ultimately, this will improve the quality of life for everyone in the City.

THE SANCTITY OF LIFE SHALL BE OUR FIRST PRIORITY

The MPD recognizes that the use of force by its officers is a concern to the people ofMinneapolis. Many people of color: African Americans, women, American Indians, members of the LGBT community, as well as members of the disability and mental health communities feel particularly vulnerable to the use of force

1.2.13 The community believes and states unequivocally; MPD Officers actual practice is ‘SHOOT TO KILL.” MPD command shall investigate this belief. If the investigation bares out the community belief, retraining of every officer shall be instituted immediately. 6Any MPD employee found to operate under this deadly practice should be terminated immediately, reported to the post board for revocation of their license to practice law within the State of Minnesota. All past reports of the use of deadly force shall be reviewed.

1.2.15 Every MPD officer that has received WARRIOR TRAINING shall be deprogrammed and retrained to SERVE AND PROTECT WITH COMPASSION

1.2.16 MPD officers prescribed or using any type of STEROID shall report such use and prescription to precinct command. 

1.4.1 Crowd Control. MPD shall not use TEAR GAS, RUBBER BULLETS, BEAN BAGS OR OTHER PROJECTILES as a method of crowd control. Tear Gas has been outlawed for use in War by the United Nations. The United States of America is a signatory to the UnitedNations. WE ARE NOT AT WAR IN MINNESOTA. Human Beings in Minnesota have aright to free speech, peaceful protest, and the right to assembly under the Constitution of the United States. This basic right shall not be abridged by any Law enforcement agency in any State in the US.

1.4.6 Use of force shall be the technique of last resort, after all de-escalation techniques have been exhausted, whether the encounter is with one person, a small group, or large crowds. This is based on the oath of office and values of MPD. Community members are partners in public safety and public health, including community members that may violate community norms. These community members are not the enemy. We are not at war in Minneapolis.

2.1 Establishment of MPD Community Relations Council.The parties hereby agree to establish the MPD Community Relations Council. The Council shall be made up of 30members, 18 of which to be selected by the UCMT, with the remaining 12 members to be filled by the chief, federation head and 10 MPD personnel selected by the chief. Observers may include but not be limited to the Mayor’s office, the City Council, MinneapolisDepartment of Civil Rights, and MN Department of Human Rights.

2.2.15.1 Create a Community Safety Response Team formerly known as CommunityNavigators, to work with community members and in support police officers with information, referrals, and personal assistance in communicating options available to community members dealing with a crisis situation.

3.1.4C Persons experiencing mental/behavioral health episode cannot, will not, recognize or respond to “Command/Control” technique. De-escalation, compassion, empathy, recognition of mental/behavioral health episode and responding accordingly will promote“Service with compassion”. Recognition and offering/requesting assistance of CIT officers in serving this person and community will benefit all.

3.3 Americans with a Disability. Persons with disabilities can experience behavioral/mental health episodes. These people should have contact first with CIT, police only if weapons/violence are present/eminent.

4.2.5 Multicultural Recruitment Team. The MPD will establish a Multicultural Recruitment Team for the purpose of: • Identifying potential sources from which the MPD can recruit 18women, people of color, African Americans, American Indians and GLBT individuals; •Identifying barriers to the hiring and promotion of women, people of color, American Indians and LGBTQ individuals.