Q&A with activist Al Flowers on why he’s voting ‘no’ on Question 2

October 29, 2021 8:00 am

MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo, pictured here in 2015. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Longtime activist and south Minneapolis resident Al Flowers has been outspoken against Minneapolis’ public safety ballot initiative, which is Question 2 on the ballot. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and with violent crime on the rise, the city has been gripped by a high-stakes debate about the future of MPD and the city it serves. 

If Question 2 passes, the city would replace the police department with a new department of public safety and give the City Council more power to influence policies and personnel of the new department.

Al Flowers is a longtime activist and coordinator with Minnesota Safe Streets. Courtesy photo.

Flowers was a 2018 mayoral candidate and serves as coordinator with Minnesota Safe Streets, an anti-violence community organization. He talked with the Reformer about why he’s voting “no” on Question 2.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is your personal experience with police, good and bad?

I’ve been treated badly over several run-ins. Historically, Minneapolis police treat the African community wrong, including myself, with five incidents of being assaulted.

One incident also involved my sister Lisa Clemons, who is a former sergeant on the force. Before she joined the police, they jumped on us at an apartment we shared. She and I had to trade blows with the cops. We had another confrontation with law enforcement outside the Urban League in Minneapolis and were charged with obstruction. We were found not guilty by an all-white jury. 

So far as the good, I have family in law enforcement in Minnesota, Arkansas and Missouri. There’s some good, just not in my personal experience. 

How would the initiative eradicate the institutionalized racism plaguing the MPD? 

It won’t, and that’s the problem. There’s no way to not have law enforcement in a lawless society. What’s been done to American descendants of slaves has been done to no other community. So when you say to abolish, defund and dismantle the police, our community is going to say, “Yeah, get rid of them.” At the same time, we’re quick to call them. A lot happens in our community that leaves no choice but to call the police.

Why is the effort to eradicate institutionalized racism with the initiative destined to fail? 

Because there is no plan. If enough people vote yes and pass it, it will still fail. Churches and many Black leaders on the ground don’t support it. Since May of last year, when George Floyd died, Minnesota Safe Streets has worked with the Young People’s Task Force and the Unity In Community Mediation Team and with MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo to try and get police reform

To what do you attribute the rising gun violence of the past 18 months? 

I attribute it to all this that’s going on. When advocates came out with slogans like abolish or defund the police, criminals heard that. Criminals who want a lawless society. 

What are some concrete solutions to the rising gun violence of the past 18 months?

We’re working on a solution with Minnesota Safe Streets bringing a collective of organizations together. In Minneapolis, for instance, A Mother’s Love, We Push For Peace, New Salem Baptist Church. In St. Paul, there’s Miki Frost at youth organization 8218 Truce Center, there’s the God Squad.

If the charter amendment passes, what does the new public safety department look like, what does it do?

We don’t know. And they don’t know.

Why have previous efforts to reform the department failed?

The union. The union has to be reformed as well. They never saw anything wrong with what Derek Chauvin did.

Should young Black men and women consider a career in law enforcement? 

If you want change, it has to come from being inside the system. That’s why I respect Chief Arradondo. He sued the police department for racial discrimination in 2007 and stayed. We love him because he won, stayed and is now chief.

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