Q&A with activist Erica Mauter on why she’s voting ‘yes’ on Question 2

October 29, 2021 8:00 am

A demonstrator holds a sign with a Minneapolis Police Department logo modiifed to say Muderous Police, at a protest in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 4, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

Even as the police murder of George Floyd spurred Minneapolis to reform the police department, the city has endured one of its worst crime waves since the city was dubbed “Murderapolis” in 1995, numbering more than 500 citizens shot and 78 killed so far this year.

Voters must wrestle with this as they consider Question 2 on their ballots Tuesday. That’s the ballot initiative to replace the police department with a department of public safety, while giving the City Council more power to shape the new department’s policies and personnel. 

Heavyweight politicians have weighed in on both sides of Question 2. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison are among those in favor, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Gov. Tim Walz are against it.

Erica Mauter, a resident of the Phillips West neighborhood, is a member of the city’s Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee, which advises on infrastructure investments. She also ran for City Council in 2017. Mauter talked with the Reformer about why she supports voting “yes” on Question 2.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

My experience, which I think is true of most people in this country, is that of having been raised to believe police are supposed to be helpful, and that you can call 911 expecting help if something is wrong.

I’ve called the non-emergency line about items stolen from my home and had an officer arrive with a gun, when that seemed entirely unnecessary — the job was just to do some paperwork. I’ve been pulled over for some unknown traffic violation, wondering what I should say, what I should do, where I should put my hands. And then relieved they drove away and it didn’t end poorly.

My experience has also been seeing many needless acts of police violence against people who look like me, who are Black — not understanding what that person could’ve done any different to protect themselves. 

The good?

To be honest, my good experience of the police has been any encounter in which nobody died.

Erica Mauter is a member of the Minneapolis Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee and former city council candidate. Courtesy photo.

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

The initiative removes the requirement for a minimum number of officers and attendant funding.

It eliminates the largest piece of leverage the police federation has to prevent change in the department. 

Still, it’s folly to think this change would solve the problem of institutionalized racism. Eradicating racism is an ongoing project at any institution. Creating the department of public safety with multiple functions allows the flexibility to evolve and make change as needed. The necessary cultural change will depend on the city and the MPD. 

Conversely, why is the effort to eradicate institutionalized racism with the initiative destined to fail? 

There is no silver bullet. It’s work we need to continue. But this change gives us the chance to try new things and not be locked into a police-only model.

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

Across the entire country, particular kinds of violence are up — not only in Minneapolis. The pandemic has exacerbated conditions that were already precarious for people who were precariously employed, people working low-wage jobs or who were precariously housed. When people aren’t getting their needs met, they resort to desperate measures. When you have guns as readily available as they are in this country, people trying to get their physical and emotional needs met have a deadly tool.

What are some concrete solutions to the rising gun violence of the past 18 months? If not the charter amendment, then what? Conversely, if the charter amendment passes, what does the new public safety department look like and what does it do?

The new department would have a commissioner nominated by the mayor and approved by the council. It would include the police department, fire department, emergency services and other existing programs like the Office of Violence Prevention, as well as some yet-to-be conceived of. The vision is to find the right helpers.

That doesn’t mean the MPD goes away. It just means we have better coordination for resources and space to bring on new resources as they are needed. It could be social services, youth workers, substance abuse experts. Maybe more EMTs. The other thing this would do is actually give us adequate data to understand what resource we need.

Should young Black men and women consider a career in law enforcement? Why or why not?

In the course of my City Council campaign, I talked to a lot of police officers. My question was why they wanted to do this job. Every single one said they wanted to help people. What the people of Minneapolis need right now is to have some imagination, thinking about what creates public safety and how to participate in that, beyond police being solely responsible for public safety. I would suggest to young Black men and women considering law enforcement that they think extensively about what it means to help people and the different paths to do that.

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