Daily Reformer: Abolish the police message #fail

A mural on Hennepin Avenue South. Photo by Hannah Black/Minnesota Reformer.

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Joe Scarborough: “Defunding the police is actually a code word for many people that means reforming the police. What can you tell us from what you’ve heard with activists?”

Rev. Al Sharpton: “That’s what I heard. I heard that what they’re really talking about is adjusting and in many ways recommitting the funding toward things like community policing, like mental health, interventions that do not involve policing as we know it. And putting a lot into police training. I don’t think anyone other than the far extremes is saying we don’t want any kind of policing at all, any kind of public safety. It’s to reinterpret how we do public safety and reallocate resources in ways that solve the problem in areas I outlined. I think the slogan may be misleading without interpretation.”

Sharpton was here in Minneapolis just days ago. You’d think they’d have him on board. 

Upon hearing Sharpton’s line that the slogan is “misleading without interpretation,” Jim Manley, a Minnesota native who is a longtime Democratic message maven including tours with Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid, tweeted, “Then it’s a bad slogan.”

That was just one sign of many that — as I explicitly feared and warned in this space Monday — the City Council and their activist allies would lose the moment. 

Top Minnesota Democrats could be seen fleeing from abolish/defund, as Theo Keith reported. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said what you always say when the locals go sideways, calling it a “local issue.” As our own Ricardo Lopez reported, state DFL leader Sen. Susan Kent also deflected questions about it. Gov. Tim Walz called abolish police a “visceral scream” and then, intentionally or not, denigrated the debate as “being caught in a sound bite.” And lest you think Minneapolis can be an island, the Legislature matters a great deal — recall what happened when Minneapolis tried to ban plastic bags and a GOP-controlled Legislature simply reversed it. 

Other activist groups said, nope, no thanks, AP reported.

“Saying that they’re going to defund the police or that they’re going to ban the police or whatever they’re talking about, that was optics, guys,” said Michelle Gross, president of the Minneapolis chapter of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “Just plain optics.” Sam Martinez, an activist with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, a group formed after the 2015 death of Jamar Clark in a confrontation with police, said just getting rid of a police department doesn’t solve the problem. 

Republicans, meanwhile, were eager to join the debate, from President Donald Trump on down. 

They clearly see a potential life raft in the issue, because otherwise they’re going to drown in Trump’s disastrous recent polling. Trump himself — hoping for a law-and-order campaign — jumped in, and Minnesota Republicans followed suit, inviting legislative hearings. (Strib.) 

Democratic nominee Joe Biden distanced himself. 

Council President Lisa Bender went on CNN and Chris Cuomo was basically begging her to clean up the message, and she said a “police free future” is “aspirational.” 

Nekima Levy-Armstrong would have none of it: 

And the backtracking begins…It is clear that statements over the weekend by Minneapolis city council members about disbanding the police were for shock value and to deflect attention from their lack of action in reforming the police department. @lisabendermpls is full of it.

It’s probably not great when an editor at the metro paper introduces a Q&A on the subject this way: 

“Here are some answers to questions related to the Minneapolis City Council’s efforts to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department, as best as we can ascertain right now.”

(Emphasis mine.) 

The press and the public are confused and alarmed. Your most powerful allies are running for the hills. Your enemies are emboldened. Your friends are divided. 

Other than that, it was a really great rollout.

Before all our new Minneapolis readers turn on me, I’ll repeat what I wrote Monday, that I’m sympathetic to the idea of a new model of public safety that acknowledges we ask police to do much and what we’re doing now isn’t working for many Minneapolis residents, especially the family of George Floyd and those who have come before. 

But public policy victories are difficult and you need a plan on both the policy and the politics, and Monday was a total political failure. And I mean total.