The proposed initiative would have changed the city charter to remove a requirement that Minneapolis have a police department with a minimum number of officers. While supporters said a complete overhaul of policing was necessary to stop police violence, opponents argued that the proposal had no concrete plan on how to move forward and warned it would leave some communities already affected by violence more vulnerable, as crime is on the rise.
Those opponents welcomed the amendment’s defeat but stressed the urgency of transforming policing in the city even without it. “Tonight, Minneapolis voters have made clear that we want a planful approach to transforming policing and public safety in our city that needs to include meaningful consultation with the communities that are most impacted by both violent crime and by over-policing,” said Leili Fatehi, manager of the All of Mpls campaign, as reported by CNBC.
The ballot proposal had roots in the abolish-the-police movement that erupted after Floyd was killed by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin last year. The debate over racial justice in policing brought national attention to Tuesday’s vote, as well as “a river of out-of-state money seeking to influence the outcome that could have shaped change elsewhere, too,” The Associated Press further noted.
The vote called for a new department of public safety to take “a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions” that would be determined by the mayor and City Council. Many saw this opportunity as a chance to reimagine what public safety can be and how fundings are utilised. Among other things, supporters said that funding would go towards programmes that don’t send armed officers to call on people in crisis.
Unlike the police, who currently report to the mayor, the department of public safety would have been jointly overseen by the mayor and the 13-member City Council. Mental health professionals would have been dispatched for most non-violent crimes, but police officers would have still been available in the case of immediate arrests.
The move was championed by Minneapolis Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the state’s attorney general, Keith Ellis, who oversaw the case against Chauvin. Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey, who was also on the ballot on Tuesday, had opposed the move as he was simultaneously in a tough fight for a second term, facing a number of opponents who had attacked him for his leadership in the wake of Floyd’s death.
A jubilant Frey didn’t claim victory when he spoke to supporters late last night but called it “a really good night” and said the city had sent a message to the entire country that true change requires hard work, not slogans. “There will be many that will try to argue that this is a blow to reform. That is dead wrong,” Frey said. “Reform has begun, but it must continue.”
Meanwhile, according to the BBC, Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross told the Minneapolis Tribune that she was not sure if the measure could prevent another black man from dying like Floyd. “If I could say yes to that I would say vote yes, but I don’t know,” she shared. Minneapolis is currently witnessing a severe wave of crimes, with violent ones on track to outrank last year’s record. It comes as part of a national crime surge. A Reuters investigation conducted in September 2021 found that officer interactions with residents plummeted in the year after Floyd’s death in May 2020.
Even after this defeat, many believe that the city of Minneapolis is going to have to move forward anyway and deal with what we can’t ever forget: that the Minneapolis Police Department has been able to operate with impunity and that the city has to take some serious steps to rectify that, no matter what.
Racism is in the air—quite literally. TikTok user @haute.hort proved this to be the case in a viral video in which he describes how neighbourhoods impacted by redlining (the systematic refusal of services based on factors like race) have higher temperatures than other neighbourhoods.
The TikToker, named Bryan, first posted the video as a part of a trend on the video-sharing app where users share statistics that “live in their heads rent free.” In it, Bryan explains that neighbourhoods that were previously redlined in the 1900s are today 5 to 12 degrees hotter in the summertime than their non-redlined counterparts.
This is because redlined neighbourhoods have fewer trees, which help reduce heat by providing shade and moisture to the surrounding air through evaporative cooling. But what exactly is redlining?
In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the US federal government began a programme explicitly designed to increase—and segregate—America’s housing stock. According to NPR, the housing programmes begun under the New Deal were equivalent to a “state-sponsored system of segregation.”
The government’s efforts were “primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families,” explains Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. African-Americans and other people of colour were left out of the new suburban communities and pushed instead into urban housing projects.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighbourhoods—a policy known as redlining. The FHA’s justification was that if African-Americans bought homes in these suburbs, or even if they bought homes near these suburbs, the property values of the homes they were insuring (meaning the white homes they were insuring) would decline. And therefore their loans would be at risk.
As expected, these decades-old housing policies have had a lasting effect on American society. “If we want greater equality in this society, if we want a lowering of the hostility between police and young African-American men, we need to take steps to desegregate,” says Rothstein.
The information that Bryan highlighted in his TikTok video had in fact been proved in January 2020 by a team of researchers who studied 108 US urban areas and found out that yes, the formerly redlined neighbourhoods of nearly every city studied were hotter than the non-redlined neighbourhoods, some by nearly 13 degrees.
In other words, Rothstein had a point; discriminatory, race-based housing practices put in place nearly a century ago still had repercussions on those same neighbourhoods today. Nearly 90 years after those maps were created, redlined neighbourhoods are hotter than the highest-rated neighbourhoods by an average of almost 5 degrees, according to the research from Portland State University, the Science Museum of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It was very surprising when we saw that it was a pattern that we were seeing consistently across the country,” said Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, who co-authored the study when speaking to NPR.
The injustice doesn’t stop there: that extra heat can have dangerous and sometimes deadly health consequences. Extreme heat kills more Americans every year than any other weather-related disaster, and as climate change progresses, heatwaves are growing in intensity and frequency too.
In Baltimore, NPR and the Howard Center found dramatic increases in the rates of emergency calls during dangerous heat waves, as low-income patients in the city’s hotspots visited the hospital more often than low-income patients in cooler areas.
Cities, in general, tend to be hotter than their rural surroundings—the way they’re built often creates what is known as an ‘urban heat island’. That’s mostly due to the fact that cities have more pavement and concrete, which absorb heat and release it slowly. They also tend to have fewer trees, which cool the air and provide shade. Cities are hotter, but any green space and concrete within them aren’t distributed evenly across these urban areas, which can create micro heat islands within a city.
Looking at the neighbourhoods with hotter temperatures than others, the formerly redlined neighbourhoods statistically have about half as many trees on average today as the highest-rated predominantly white, and wealthier neighbourhoods on those maps.
The results of these studies confirm what has been in talks for years: our cities were designed by people who knew exactly what they were doing. And evidently, not everybody’s best interests were held in mind when plans for cities and communities were made. What now? As Rothstein says, “You can’t undo the damage. You need explicit policy, race-based policy. You need affirmative action in housing.”