Voters in Minneapolis, where the murder of George Floyd last year sparked the largest wave of protests against racial injustice in generations, have rejected a ballot initiative that sought to overhaul policing in the city.
The initiative would have replaced the police force with a Department of Public Safety charged with undertaking “a comprehensive public health” approach to policing.
More than 56 percent voted against amending the Minneapolis City Charter to create the new department, according to official election results on Tuesday.
Minneapolis Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey, running for a second term, was looking at a tough second round after leading Tuesday’s vote with some 43 percent of the vote, but failing to secure more than 50 percent to win straight away.
Frey had opposed the police reform and he welcomed the result.
“We need deep, structural change to policing in America,” Frey told supporters, according to The Washington Post.
“At the same time, we need police officers to make sure that they are working directly with the community to keep us safe.”
Other opponents of the idea have said the ballot proposal contains no concrete plan for how the new department would operate and expressed fear that it might make communities already affected by gun violence even more vulnerable to rising crime.
‘Defund the police’
The May 2020 murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, sparked protests against police brutality in Minneapolis and other US cities and calls in some progressive Democratic quarters to “defund the police“.
The former police officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s death and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison.
If the Minneapolis ballot measure had passed, the functions of the Department of Public Safety would be determined by the mayor and the city council and there would be a greater emphasis on hiring mental health experts and social workers.
The new department could have included “licensed peace officers [police officers], if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety”, according to the ballot measure.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had campaigned in favour of disbanding the Minneapolis police force, thanked activists and supporters and said that change was still possible.
“Across the country, we see the momentum to significantly reduce the excessive resources and responsibilities given to law enforcement and reinvest in communities they have harmed,” the group said.
“The ACLU is committed to continuing to support the Black and Brown grassroots groups spearheading this work.”
The US Justice Department announced in April following Chauvin’s conviction that it was conducting an investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department systematically uses excessive force and “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing”.
The killing of Floyd and other Black Americans in 2020 prompted a patchwork of police reforms across the US, where law enforcement is typically regulated on the state and local levels.