U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), shown here at a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2019, says she supports a ballot initiative that replaces the Minneapolis police department with a new department of public safety. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar have thrown their support behind the Minneapolis ballot initiative that would replace the police department with a new department of public safety.
“As a resident of Mpls where George Floyd’s murder sparked a national call for real reform, I will vote Yes for greater public safety & more human rights for all,” Ellison tweeted on Tuesday.
Ellison has endorsed Mayor Jacob Frey, who strongly opposes the ballot initiative, while his son, Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, has been one of its loudest champions and co-authored a ballot initiative last year that ultimately failed to get on the ballot.
Omar, whose congressional district covers Minneapolis, published an op-ed in the Star Tribune on Tuesday in which she called the city charter outdated for its requirement of minimum police staffing levels and argued the amendment would create a department better equipped to respond to mental health crises and other social ills.
“The truth is the current system hasn’t been serving our city for a long time,” Omar wrote. “We have a mandate, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to deliver a public safety system rooted in compassion, humanity and love, and to deliver true justice.”
Endorsements from Ellison and Omar offer a counterweight to three prominent Minnesota Democrats who have come out against the ballot initiative in the past week: Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Angie Craig.
Ellison, Klobuchar and Omar live in Minneapolis, as does U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who says she is still studying the issue.
If passed, the charter amendment would remove the police department from the charter and replace it with a new department that combines public safety services across the city including mental health professionals, violence prevention workers and police officers.
The most significant changes would be the shift in power away from the mayor, who currently has complete control over the department, and the elimination of the position of police chief. Instead of a police chief, the mayor would nominate and the city council would appoint a commissioner to oversee the new department. It would also eliminate the minimum police staffing levels required by the charter — currently 17 officers per 10,000 residents.
Opponents of the ballot initiative have pointed to the elimination of minimum staffing levels as evidence that the police would be “defunded,” a politically fraught slogan that proponents have tried to distance themselves from after widely embracing in the days following Floyd’s murder.
In her op-ed, Omar wrote, “It has nothing to do with funding levels, much less ‘defunding’ public safety in Minneapolis. There are no financial components of this amendment.”
The campaign All of Mpls, set up by Democrats to oppose the ballot initiative, has used Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s broad popularity in the city to try to persuade residents to vote ‘no.’ In a recent mailing, they said the ballot initiative “eliminates the police department and Police Chief Arradondo.”
In her op-ed, Omar called such claims misleading: “The new department would still have a commissioner, and the city could choose to keep the current police chief, Medaria Arradondo, on in the commissioner role.”
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