Minnesota’s Democratic lawmakers in Washington mostly steer clear of ‘defund the police’ rhetoric

By: - June 12, 2020 6:00 am

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Tina Smith met with business owners that were affected by the looting and riots following the George Floyd protests at Hawthorne Crossings on West Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis. Also pictured is Gov. Tim Walz. Photo by Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune.

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar wants to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department, but her colleagues in the state’s congressional delegation aren’t on board.

“I’m not in favor of abolishing public safety departments and police departments,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Wednesday at a Georgetown University forum on racial justice. 

Democratic Sen. Tina Smith agreed, saying in a statement that “We need to reimagine policing” but not abolish the police.

In the U.S. House, Democratic Reps. Angie Craig, Dean Phillips and Collin Peterson also oppose the idea, according to their offices.

“We need real reform, but eliminating them is not the answer,” Craig said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum — the state’s other Democrat in the U.S. House — said she wants to fully fund “professional, respectful and responsible” police departments in her district but did not condemn other Minnesota officials for pursuing a different path.

“The Minneapolis City Council is free to defund or abolish its police department” or ask to have some federal funding terminated, she said in a statement. “That will be their decision to make.”

On the Republican side, GOP Rep. Pete Stauber, a former cop, believes defunding police is a “dangerous” idea, according to spokeswoman Kelsey Mix. GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn called the idea “ludicrous” in a recent interview with KEYC News Now.

President Donald Trump and Pete Stauber, then a Republican candiate for the US House
President Donald Trump with then-candidate Pete Stauber at a rally in Duluth in 2018. Stauber, now a Minnesota congressman, called the idea of dismantling police departments “dangerous.” (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The state’s other House lawmaker — GOP Rep. Tom Emmer — didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last weekend, Omar told protesters that “not only do we need to disinvest from police but we need to completely dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,” according to RealClearPolitics. She called the department “rotten to the root.”

On Sunday, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council — a veto-proof majority — announced they intend to dismantle the department in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

Omar also announced support for legislation that would create a new federal agency to investigate police misconduct; criminalize police violence against protesters; curtail the president’s ability to deploy the military at home without congressional approval; and create an “emergency relief fund” in the wake of social and civil unrest.

‘We must take action’

Though not in favor of dismantling police, most Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation said they want a bold federal response to police brutality.

Klobuchar and Smith joined Democratic colleagues in Congress this week in introducing an expansive package aimed at increasing police accountability, barring racial profiling and increasing transparency surrounding officers’ actions.

“We must take action to fix a broken system,” Klobuchar said in a statement when introducing the bill. Smith agreed, adding: “We cannot squander this moment.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said earlier this week that members of his caucus are working on a separate police reform package but did not disclose details. 

Klobuchar and Smith have also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate discrimination and racial violence in policing and back a Senate resolution condemning violence against peaceful protesters.

Omar, McCollum, Craig and Phillips also back the measure, as well as a House resolution condemning police brutality, racial profiling and the use of excesssive and militarized force.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) July 23 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar, pictured here in 2019, supports the abolish the police movement in Minneapolis. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Peterson is not listed as a cosponsor of the House resolution on police brutality. As for the broader police reform legislation, Peterson backs changes “along the lines of the House bill” but said he has some concerns with it because Republicans didn’t give their input, according to his spokeswoman Sue Dieter. 

Stauber spokeswoman Mix said Democrats did not reach out to her boss when drafting their police reform package: “His unique experience was not considered.” 

Stauber may back reform efforts, she said. He is exploring policies that would improve hiring standards, bolster training, increase the use of body cameras, strengthen police accountability and help police departments build stronger relationships with communities.

Emmer has proposed a bill to improve communication and engagement between law enforcement and communities.

Hagedorn, meanwhile, is emphasizing “law and order” on social media platforms and expressed opposition to the Democratic reform package in the KEYC News Now interview. 

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Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens is a Washington correspondent for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Minnesota Reformer.