The police can no longer rely on extortion to get support

With every budget year, there are factions in Minneapolis that call for more police, in the mistaken belief that more police equals more safety. It’s never true, but they tend to get their way. As we can rather clearly see this year, the police are a destabilizing, violent institution that has grown over-confident in their untouchability.

Five decades ago, police departments operated under the authority of city governments, most notably serving as enforcers for corrupt political machines. That was then. With the decline of the machines in the ’70s, the police emerged as the most powerful section of municipal governments, more influenced by Homeland Security, regional fusion centers, and a police equipment industry aggressively pushing the latest in weapons and surveillance systems.

While politicians turn over every few years, the police have built an enduring base of support, unwavering in its belief that more cops mean more safety. As a result, their numbers, budgets, and clout have steadily increased over the years, as racial and economic inequality have grown.

Elected backers of police expansion like Minneapolis City Council members Linea Palmisano, Lisa Goodman, and Alondra Cano seem to believe they would be supporting a community-oriented police department spearheaded by Chief Medaria Arrodondo. That department is a mirage. They would be better off investing in a unicorn park. Reformist chiefs have at best a fleeting impact on their departments, their effort—what former Minneapolis Police chief Tony Bouza called his “futile attempt to reform the police”—erased within a year or two of their departure.

That’s changing. Right now, Minneapolis City Council members consider disbanding the police. I doubt it will be as radical as it should be — they’ll probably just end up stripping them of some functions and putting them in the hands of more responsible organizations — but it’s a first step.

Now the council members are listening to a city that is wounded, angry, fed up with decades of violence disproportionately visited upon black and brown residents. Various private and public bodies – from First Avenue to Minneapolis Public Schools – have essentially cut ties with the police department. Council members are trying to figure out what their next move is.

Their discussion is starting to sound a little more like what groups like Reclaim the Block and the Black Visions Collective have been saying for years. On Tuesday, Fletcher published a lengthy Twitter thread saying the police department was “irredeemably beyond reform,” and a “protection racket” that slows down responses as political payback.

“Several of us on the council are working on finding out what it would take to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and start fresh with a community-oriented, nonviolent public safety and outreach capacity,” he wrote.

You can peruse that thread in its entirety here.

Please, please make it happen. Remove this malignant force from our cities. All the money spent on cops and their toys and the prison system that feeds on police action would be far more effective if spent on correcting the root source of much of our crime: poverty.


  1. says

    I hate to say it but I fear for the safety of those council members. The police have shown that they aren’t above terrorizing people who get in their way.

  2. says

    I fear you are being optimistic. The police union has probably just started bending the ears the politicians. (While I mean that figuratively, maybe it’s also literal.) But once they get their lobbyists on it, I suspect it will disappear.

  3. stroppy says

    A lot to be ironed out, but changes can be made…

    What Happened to Crime in Camden?

    So what’s happening in this city, which for many years has been deemed among the dangerous in America? Thomson, who took the helm of the Camden police force in 2008, says the biggest factor may have been the change in structure of the department itself. In 2013, the Camden Police Department was disbanded, reimagined, and born again as the Camden County Police Department, with fewer officers, lower pay—and a strategic shift toward “community policing.”

  4. dstatton says

    A late friend of mine, a retired psychologist who occasionally gave tests to police recruits, told me that the standards had been lowered in order to get more recruits into the force. Mayors felt a need to increase the force to fight crime. More sociopaths, in other words.

  5. says

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and there are a few conclusions I’ve come to. First of all not all cops are fascist scumbags despite what some people claim. Second there are bad cops. Third we are currently relying on police institutions to self regulate and keep the bad cops out. That’s not working, that’s the core of the problem.

    Corruption breeds corruption. An outside agency needs to have the power to regulate the police. It could be top down from the federal or state level, or bottom up from the populous through elected local officials. The police can’t be abolished, but there is desperate need for reform and regulation.

    Unfortunately, as long as DJT is squatting like a toad in the White House, “regulation” is the dirtiest word there is. But that’s what’s needed. Every police shooting needs followup investigation by a third party. Right now there is no voice for the people being policed in how they are policed. That’s not democracy.

    There are no simple solutions. But one thing I’m certain of, there will be dozens more George Floyds between now and 2024 if we leave that despot and his army of cronies in charge.

  6. unclefrogy says

    as racial and economic inequality have grown.

    well that may be hyperbole but I am pretty sure that there was not less racism in the past. Racism has been allowed to endure surely for one thing I am pretty sure there are more interactions between the various races in the population then in the past and more varied ones as well. Nothing new about economic inequality either the post-war growth in prosperity has indeed been steadily eroding and shows little signs of abating due to the benevolence of the “holly market forces” either. The number of the supper rich may be somewhat static (I do not know) but their level of wealth is rather absurdly above their usefulness to society as a whole.
    You might be able to say that the disparity has grown between the super-rich and everyone else but racism with most of its negativity has been here all along. as well as the disparity in economic status. there have been some improvements and some legal remedies implemented far less than is needed and not universally applied. I agree with the sentiment but the statement is a little exaggerated I think.
    the police can not be expected to solve our problems for us they are only a reflection of us and made up of us

  7. says

    Frogy are you being deliberately obtuse? I read that as “racial economic inequality” and “economic inequality” in general. Splitting hairs here I know. I like to think racism is on a downward slope, or at least stabilized. I like to think that the racists have not increased but the ones who do exist have become more vocal and pronounced in our current political climate.

    You do get me thinking though. What is the path toward true (unobtainable) Utopian equality? Where do we focus first? Racial inequality? Gender? Poverty in general? If you could yank 90% of the cash from the 1% (that still leaves them immensely wealthy BTW) which way would you go? Easy first step is to finish the passing of the ERA. Beyond that, I’m not sure which way to go.

  8. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Corruption breeds corruption. An outside agency needs to have the power to regulate the police. It could be top down from the federal or state level, or bottom up from the populous through elected local officials. The police can’t be abolished, but there is desperate need for reform and regulation.

    How about the courts? Allowing victims to seek civil damages seems to work pretty well in most other cases to keep corruption pretty low. That would be the first thing that I try.

    And a somewhat radical idea that has been tried before – why not allow the victim to also seek criminal damages in court?

    I think the best form of remedy is not bureaucracy, but empowering those with the most motive and interest to see justice done, namely the victims and their close family and friends.

    The criminal justice system used to work like this, circa 1800. Not everything old is good, but sometimes “tried and tested strategies” are where one should start with problems that existed before. Last time it took a violent war of independence to get rid of this problem. Hopefully we can do it again without a war. Spoiler: The modern police are the standing army that the founders feared and warned us about.

  9. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PS: If victim declines to prosecute, then the power falls to the government prosecutor, as normal.