The riots: When the police don’t protect people, they protect themselves

The “new transformative model for cultivating safety”

On Monday, I wrote about the move by a veto proof supermajority of Minneapolis’ city council to abolish the city’s police department. It would be replaced, they said, by a “new transformative model for cultivating safety.”

Quite how this “new transformative model for cultivating safety” will function is not clear. When asked on CNN, Lisa Bender was only able to offer some waffle about “privilege”.

The nine said: “We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does.”

MPR News reported that:

…for all the talk about getting rid of the current police system, there was little discussion Sunday on what exactly would replace it.

Activist Tony Williams supports replacing the department with unarmed public safety responders.

“So it might not be uniformed police officers or armed folks,” he said. “But it might be a uniformed mental health crisis response team, for example that handles some of these calls, that looks nothing like the current police department system.”

Cunningham said the department should be replaced with well-funded resources designed to help people in crisis.

“What we know is that officers — and they will say themselves — that they are not the best response for a myriad of issues: mental health crises, opioid overdoses — even domestic violence,” he said. “They know they’re not the best response because it’s just a cycle of going back and going back. They’re not trained social workers.”

KSTP reported:

“We have a paradigm for safety that is rooted in community and justice. We have seen it the last two weeks, [Minneapolis council member Philippe] Cunningham said. “The reality is that people have been doing this work for decades and not being paid. We have poured that money into the police department and where has it gotten us?”

MPR News reported:

Cunningham represents part of north Minneapolis which normally sees a heavy police presence. But he said those officers were in short supply last week as people rioted in parts of the city and burned buildings. Cunningham said his constituents banded together to look out for their neighbors.

If the police won’t protect you, you protect yourself

If we look closely, there are some tantalising hints here about how this “new transformative model for cultivating safety” might work in practice, see the remarks; “we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does”; “We have seen it the last two weeks”; “he said those officers were in short supply last week as people rioted in parts of the city and burned buildings. Cunningham said his constituents banded together to look out for their neighbors.”

What we have seen in the last two weeks – and which is, apparently, the essence of the “new transformative model for cultivating safety” is armed self defense by members of the public.

Of the absence of police, the New York Times reported:

On Saturday afternoon, Latino business owners in Minneapolis met in a parking lot to prepare for another night of unrest. Most owned commercial enterprises on Lake Street, where dozens of buildings had been vandalized the previous two nights.

They established shifts to ensure that the neighborhood would be monitored throughout the night. Organizers advised proprietors against brandishing weapons, and said they planned to order T-shirts with the logo “Lake Street Latino Security” to avoid being confused for looters by the National Guard troops and police officers responding to the unrest.

Maya Santamaria was at the gathering but said she planned to stay home that night because she had nothing left to protect. The building she previously owned — where she had once employed Mr. Floyd as a nightclub security guard, and where her new business venture, a Spanish language radio station, was also housed — had burned down Friday night.

Ms. Santamaria blamed the police for Mr. Floyd’s death and said they had not done enough to protect businesses in the aftermath.

“We were calling 911 and we were calling the Police Department and there was no response,” she said. She did not want officers to resort to violence against protesters, she said, but “they can’t just not come and leave us to burn, either.”

Fox 9 reported:

As soldiers, police, and troopers have pushed through the Twin Cities in hopes of restoring order after days of riots, some residents have decided to defend themselves from any trouble.

FOX 9 caught up with one group, some armed with bats, that have decided to protect their own block in the area of 16th Avenue and 28th Street.

Members of the group say they are concerned someone might threaten them or their neighbors and police might be unable to respond.

Tanya, who was among the group, says she has no assurance that police would be able to help out if looters or burglars attempted to access their homes or troublemakers tried to set a fire.

“We are just trying to protect the residential areas here,” explained Tanya. “This is our neighborhood. This is all we have and we can’t have it burned down or torn apart by people who aren’t from here.”

They weren’t alone:

NPR News reported:

As break-ins and fires raged in the first days of mass protests over the killing of yet another black man in an encounter with police, the city seemed to descend into a security vacuum. [Cesia Baires] says the police disappeared from this neighborhood. That’s when she and others started forming patrols to include people with licensed weapons.

“I’m the one that’s checking everyone,” she says. “If you’re up here with a gun and you’re not supposed to be here and you don’t have a license to carry, then I don’t allow you to even go to the rooftop. Only people with guns are on the rooftop.”

“It’s not something that I would want, but we’ve seen how, for at least the first couple days, we were left alone,” she says. “There were no cops that would come around. So what are we to do? Just stand there and do nothing?”

This is a great and noble American tradition. But I am struck by how many of the ‘abolish the police’ crowd are also in the ‘you don’t need a gun crowd’. After the last two weeks it is clear that you can be in one or the other but not both.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.