Minneapolis Candidates Under Fire on Question About Cops [UPDATED]

Can you even for a second imagine Minneapolis–or any other city for that matter–without cops? Not a lowered presence for cops on the beat but no police patrolling the streets, neighborhoods or downtown whatsoever.

Neither can I. But several candidates for Mayor of Minneapolis and the City Council have a very different vision of Minneapolis that has no need or room for the men and women in blue. Their answers came on an issues survey reported by the Star Tribune.

Several candidates did not respond to the questionnaire. Those who did and said they believe “we could ever have a city without police” were Tenth Ward Council Member Lisa Bender; Ninth Ward Council Member Alondra Cano; Phillipe Cunningham, who’s running for council in the Fourth Ward; Jeremiah Ellison, who’s running in the Fifth Ward; Janne Flisrand, who’s running in the Seventh Ward; Ginger Jentzen, who’s running in the Third Ward; and Jeremy Schroeder, who’s running in the 11th Ward.

Council Member Jacob Frey, who is running for mayor, also said “yes” to the question, as did mayoral candidate Ray Dehn, a DFL state representative. Mayor Betsy Hodges and other mayoral candidates Nekima Levy-Pounds, Al Flowers and Aswar Rahman all said “no,” the city could never be without police.

But the candidates who want a city without police quickly hit a wall of opposition from businesses and other leaders who live and work in the real world.

 At a news conference outside the Minneapolis Convention Center, members of the Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (DID), neighborhood leaders and staff from the nonprofit YouthLink said they thought the response to the Voices for Racial Justice survey was misguided. Some said the candidates who answered “yes” shouldn’t be elected.

“Helping to oversee a big city police department as a policymaker in today’s environment is serious work,” said Downtown Council president and CEO Steve Cramer. “But the responses these candidates gave demonstrated they aren’t treating that task with the seriousness it requires.”

One high profile candidate for Mayor, City Councilor Jacob Frey, appeared to waffle on his affirmative response upon reflection, throwing staff under the Met Transit bus.

 Frey said the yes/no question on a future without police was not in the initial questions sent by Voices for Racial Justice and for Frey it was answered by a campaign staffer. Other candidates, including Bender, said they faced similar confusion with the survey.

“While there is a hypothetical world in which police are not needed, we do not live in that world,” Frey said in a statement.

Instead of hypothetical, however, City Councilor Lisa Bender went “aspirational.”

Bender also issued a statement Thursday saying the question was “aspirational,” and said she would answer “yes” to similarly aspirational questions such as “Can we end homelessness?” or “Can we stop climate change?”

“Anyone who suggests that my answer to this question is a call for an immediate end to policing is politicizing this issue in a way that is divisive and harmful to meaningful change in how we approach public safety,” she said.

Kudos to Mayor Betsy Hodges, who as a fan of Wonder Woman, knows the police need all the support they can get. She was among the handful to answer yes.

UPDATE: The Star Tribune has updated its original post to add context and to correct the record to indicate City Councilor Jacob Frey’s response was to the survey question, not a statement. The section now reads as follows.

Frey said the yes/no question was not included in the initial survey sent by Voices for Racial Justice. Candidates got a list of questions including one that read, “What does a city look like without police? Do you believe this could work?” But to submit their answers in an online form, the question was split in two: “Do you believe that we could ever have a city without police?” and “What would you do, as an elected official, to bring us closer to police abolition?”

Frey said a campaign staffer submitted the original answer he approved in response to the second question. Other candidates, including Bender, said they faced similar confusion with the survey.

“As I said in my answer, getting rid of the police could only happen in a hypothetical world that doesn’t exist,” Frey said. “I’ve made repeated calls to add police officers, and this confusion arose when the questions were changed by those creating the survey.”