Episode 66: What is ‘community control’ of the police — and who is calling for it?

In this episode, we interview two local groups who are advocating for “community control” of the police. Representatives from the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and the University of Minnesota’s Students for a Democratic Society talk about what community control is, what it would look like in action and where the idea came from.

Megan Germnudson and Yoko Vue

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MEGAN PALMER: Hey y’all, and welcome back to another week. Before I introduce our story, I have a favor to ask. In The Know reporters Megan and Yoko are hoping to do a story on student mental health in the coming weeks, and they want to know how you are doing in your own words. So grab a recorder, or even just your phone, and send us a brief voice memo. Let us know where you at mentally in the midst of such a historic semester. How are you feeling? What’s keeping you up at night? What are you struggling with? When you’re done, please email your audio diary to us at [email protected]. That’s i-n-t-h-e-k-n-o-w AT mndaily.com. And just a heads up, if you choose to record on your phone, hold it up to your ear as if you’re making a normal phone call to get the best quality. Thanks!

PALMER: Let’s get into this week’s episode — here’s Megan and Yoko with the story.

MEGAN GERMUNDSON: Hi everyone, I’m Megan Germundson.

YOKO VUE: I’m Yoko Vue, and you’re listening to “In The Know,” a podcast by the Minnesota Daily.

NAT SOUND: NEWSREEL 1 (FADE UNDER TRACK) – “All right, we’re going to get right to it. We have breaking news out of Minneapolis at this hour, Minneapolis city council members have announced their plan to disband the Minneapolis police department…Well, their main message here was to invest in the community and not the police…To end policing as we know it…The pledge to dismantle MPD created confusion in the community and even among the council members themselves….Three and a half months later, there’s still no concrete plan for any sweeping transformations. Voters would still have to approve changing the city charter to get rid of MPD, it won’t be on the ballot until at least next year.”

GERMUNDSON: Last June, on a stage at Powderhorn Park, several Minneapolis City Council members gathered together pledging to “defund” the Minneapolis Police Department. But this idea didn’t quite play out as many had hoped.

VUE: It was a big idea that left many people confused and unclear about how it would be achieved. The idea quickly fizzled out and was halted from the upcoming November ballot by the City Charter Commission.

GERMUNDSON: But long before the city council had even considered the idea of defunding, social justice groups like Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, were calling for a different way to take back power from the police — “community control”.

VUE: And now this idea has reached the university campus. So, in today’s episode we’re going to learn about community control from two groups advocating for it. What it means, how it’s different from defunding and what it could look like in action.

NAT SOUND: ZOOM CALL SOUND

GERMUNDSON: So, I spoke with Jae Yates, a representative for TCC4J, a group that’s been pressuring the city council for community control of the police since 2017.

JAE YATES: I recently joined Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, back in June because I was helping organize the Taking Back Pride event. And, then I just stayed on after that.

I moved to Minnesota a year after Jamar Clark was killed, and I had heard of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar because of their anti-corporate pride protests actually.

NAT SOUND: NEWSREEL JAMAR CLARK PROTESTS (FADE IN) “Jamar Clark, Jamar Clark…Police and protestors after 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot and killed by an officer from the Minneapolis Police Department…This is an unlawful assembly…Fires, keeping  protesters warm at the fourth precinct, live here in North Minneapolis [BEGIN FADE OUT]…”

GERMUNDSON: Justice 4 Jamar formed in November 2015, during the protests that erupted after the police killing of Jamar Clark.

YATES: They wanted to put pressure on  local government to prosecute the officers. That didn’t happen, obviously.

GERMUNDSON: In 2016, Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman declined to charge the officers in the Clark case. And in the summer of 2019, Jamar Clark’s family reached a “tentative settlement” with the City for $200,000. Just for context: that same summer, the family of Justine Ruszczyk, who was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, settled with the city for $20 million — “the largest misconduct payout in state history,” according to MPR News. Former officer Mohamed Noor was the first Somali-American cop hired in the 5th precinct, and the first Minnesota police officer convicted of murder in recent history.

YATES: But, I think that, despite that, people saw that the families really needed the support for even attempting to get that sort of accountability.

GERMUNDSON: Since then, Justice 4 Jamar has been helping organize other events, supporting the family members of victims of police brutality and advocating for community control of the police.

YATES: Yeah, it’s, Civilian Police Accountability Council. And a lot of times people abbreviate that to CPAC, but people also just refer to the general concept as community control of the police.

Community control of the police is actually a concept that the Black Panthers championed in Oakland, which then made its way to Chicago. And Chicago has been fighting for community control of the police, organizers there have been fighting for that for a while like since the seventies. Mainly because people confuse it, and I did this too when I first heard about CPAC, of assuming that it’s the same as community policing, which is more of a surveillance tactic by the police to use members of the community to surveil their own community. That sort of like “officer friendly” type narrative. But community control of the police seeks to establish an elected council of nine civilians.

GERMUNDSON: The CPAC would be completely independent from law enforcement. And in order to ensure that, they’ve come up with several eligibility requirements in order to run for a position on the council. Council representatives can’t have worked as a law enforcement officer and must disclose any familial ties with law enforcement.

YATES: So the point of CPAC is to take away the power for police to investigate themselves, because that’s a conflict of interest and it’s clear that they use that to protect their own, instead of actually investigating the crimes that are committed.

We want power over budget, for example, to be shifted away from [the Minneapolis] City Council, because essentially we’re not interested in having this continued influx of money into these police departments.

GERMUNDSON: Jae has been involved in writing the legislation to propose CPAC, along with other members of Justice 4 Jamar. And they said that one of the big tenets is that…

YATES: Hiring and firing power goes to that council rather than the police chief, for example. So, that means that we can also fire the police chief, if the council deems that appropriate. And then as far as community say in what the council itself does, we proposed in our legislation that there be a set number of public meetings every year that the public can sit in on and ask questions and raise concerns. Because, at the end of the day, this is for the regular people that live here, because those are the people that are affected by policing.

GERMUNDSON: The city of Minneapolis already has at least two different commissions that essentially serve as law enforcement watchdogs, although in different ways. The Office of Police Conduct Review, or OPCR, and the Police Conduct Review Commission, or PCOC. Both of these groups are made up of panelists appointed by the mayor, city council and the chief of police. And these commissions can do things like investigate civilian complaints, hold public hearings, shape policy and help with different trainings for the MPD.

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL RHYTHM (FADE UP AND OUT UNDER TRACK)

GERMUNDSON: But right now in the midst of a contentious time between police, civilians and politicians in the city, the PCOC has four vacant seats – all of which require appointments by either the mayor or city council.  So, I asked Jae how a CPAC would differ from what the city already has in place.

YATES: CPAC is really trying to mediate the behavior of the police, knowing that the function of the police is to oppress its community. It’s not about reforming the police, it’s about curtailing their power.

So I think that for us it’s really about giving people a self determinative power over how they are policed. Because I don’t think it’s possible for us to get rid of the police like tomorrow. I don’t think that we have had sufficient time to come up with an alternative for police. We also have not addressed most of the structural issues that allow the police to enact violence on communities.

GERMUNDSON: And then, so how would this differ from, or compare with, what other nonprofit groups like Reclaim the Block, for example, what they’re calling for as far as like abolition or defunding?

YATES: I consider myself an abolitionist, but I think that abolition is something that takes a lot of time. And abolition is only possible, through a very specific set of conditions and steps, and I don’t think there’s any reason to think that City Council would ever follow through with either abolishing the police department or defunding it on their own. I think that they’ve really shown us that honestly.

I think that what Reclaim the Block tends to do is – I think that they are doing the best that they can with the knowledge that they have. But I don’t think that they have necessarily come to understand the process of how a defunding proposal would work.

And I think that what will end up happening if we rely on city council to do this work on their own, is that it’ll be what happened with the Minneapolis School Board, saying yeah we’re cutting ties with MPD and then being like, and we’re going to hire private security in their place, because that’s not any better. That’s not helping anyone and it’s not what anybody asked for.

GERMUNDSON: The Minneapolis city charter is the city’s constitution and the Minneapolis Charter Commission is made up of nine unelected officials appointed by a judge. In order to change a provision in the charter and get it on the ballot, like defunding the police for example, you have to go through the city charter commission. After the city council member’s big announcement at Powderhorn, their proposal to defund the police went to the city charter. And facing a tight deadline, the charter commission voted a month later to block the proposal from the 2020 ballot saying they needed more time to review it.

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL RHYTHM (FADE UP AND OUT UNDER TRACK)

GERMUNDSON: Why do you think that — you guys have been advocating for this idea for a while and this idea in general has been around for a while — why do you think it didn’t gain as much traction as a defunding did, for example?

YATES: Honestly I think that defunding is a little bit more … it’s pithier, it’s more attractive. I think that there was a lot of branding behind that. But there’s not necessarily an understanding of how to actually get defunding to happen. And I think of CPAC as how you get that to happen. Again, I think that most of us are absolutely proponents of defunding the police. We definitely think that they need to have less militarized weapons. Their police chief’s salary is pretty nuts. Like, we definitely think that money needs to be reallocated to the community. I think that the only real difference is that we think that our ways are going to actually get defunding to happen, as opposed to just saying we should defund the police. It’s just that we’re trying to submit an actual plan for getting that goal accomplished.

And also just people don’t really have much education about the Black Panthers or what they were trying to do. People really just think of them as Black guys that carried guns and that’s it. But they actually did a lot of work like this. And so I think it’s a misunderstanding of the legacy of the idea.

GERMUNDSON: What do you think that the future of policing is going to look like in this city? What are you thinking, or what are you hoping?

YATES: Yeah, I think for me personally, as far as the near future, I think that I really want to see reparations basically for people that have been directly harmed by police violence. I think specifically, getting justice for the families and firing the police officers [who] have killed their loved ones. A lot of those officers are still on the force. A lot of those officers are people that we confront at like our events, which is horrifying to think about.

So, I hope that there’s one day, we don’t need police as they currently exist. It’s really not a way to live under the threat of being killed with impunity, for really any offense that the police deem appropriate, real or imagined.

But also we see this as really vital to protecting people from losing their lives at the hands of police. And so, I think it’s work that we want to do, regardless of who ends up coming along with us, Like we’re just really, we’re just really determined to get it done.

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL RHYTHM (FADE IN AND OUT UNDER TRACK)

GERMUNDSON:  But now, Justice 4 Jamar isn’t alone in advocating for a CPAC in the Twin Cities.

VUE: I spoke with Celia Nimz, a member of the University’s Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. They talked about SDS’s vision for the campus community’s own CPAC to oversee the University of Minnesota Police Department.

CELIA NIMZ: It would be a council that would be democratically elected by people that go to the university and people that live in the community as well. We’ve demanded that the members of the boards would be made up specifically of students, workers from labor unions on campus, community members including areas of campus —but also the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, because the University of Minnesota police department also polices Cedar-Riverside along with U of M. So we find it very important that that neighborhood has representation on the CPAC.

VUE: And how is SDS pushing this forward? Like who are you talking to? How are you outreaching this to the community?

NIMZ: So we’re trying to encourage students to get involved with activism, and take up the demand of CPAC and community control of the police. Right now and like for the past year or so, we’ve been like trying to pressure university administration into taking this up. We’ve held protests, on and off campus. On campus, just like at the University of Minnesota Police Department. We’ve had marches and die-ins around there and then, we’ve also made it a point to put pressure on administrators themselves.

VUE: Celia said that SDS has seen little action from administrators on their demand for a CPAC.

NIMZ: From the university administration, we’ve talked to Joan Gabel, a few times about this. She hasn’t said much about whether she would take up our demands. She said like, ‘We respect student voices.’ But, it amounted to nothing and like no support. We have noticed as well that since we’ve taken up these demands that Joan Gabel has appointed an advisor to her over the police. We have met with him. We are very critical, and that’s not going to be an adequate step to solve the police issue. The only issue that will solve it is community control. — not like another administrator advising the president on it.

VUE: Celia is referring to Dr. Cedric Alexander, who was appointed in August. You can listen to a previous episode where our reporters talked with Dr. Alexander. Celia said they weren’t personally at the meeting but they understood that Dr. Alexander appeared to be somewhat open to the idea of community control.

NIMZ: He didn’t necessarily shut that down. And he said that there is a possibility for that to happen, which really took us by surprise. Like, we thought that he was just going to shut us down for sure and disregard it. We’re not going to say we trust him by any means, but we will say that we are happy to hear that he is somewhat supportive of the idea of community control.

VUE: SDS is still in the process of writing the specific policies that would govern CPAC, but they say they plan to keep up their campaign to get more students involved.

NIMZ: We recognize meeting with advisors and people at the University is important. But the most crucial thing is activism and [being] engaged in the student body, and that’s what’s going to win over this community control, not working specifically with or gaining the approval of like administration.

VUE: Following the uprisings this summer, Celia said that SDS put community control at the center of their demands.

NIMZ: And we’ve just like recognized also, and like throughout the summer like when there was talks of the Minneapolis police department, being abolished, we recognized community control to be like a much more steady plan for protecting people against police brutality, because it would establish community control the police rather than just abolishing one police force and allowing another police force or even private police to come in and replace them and do the same harm that the city’s police force had already done.

VUE: And as far as the future of policing on campus?

NIMZ: I think it’s going to be a big long term struggle for us to establish that. I hope, and I believe that we someday will have a community controlled University of Minnesota Police, but I don’t see it as an easy process to establish this. And I think it’s going to require a lot of support and engagement of the student body along with student activists groups.

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL RHYTHM – UP AND UNDER TRACKS

VUE: Dr. Alexander’s review of the safety and equity at the University of Minnesota and the UMPD is still ongoing. And while we await his findings, SDS is continuing to push for community control with an upcoming march on Oct. 16.

GERMUNDSON: The Minneapolis City Council has come under national scrutiny by critics and by local supporters who had hoped to see “defunding the police” on the November ballot. However, groups like Justice 4 Jamar will go on organizing and advocating around community control with the hopes of bringing more on board with their idea.

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL RHYTHM (FADE OUT)

PALMER: In other University of Minnesota news: Boynton expanded their COVID-19 testing on campus and moved their primary testing location to the RecWell; a newly proposed rule from ICE would shorten international student visas to four years with heavy restrictions on extensions; and in light of a canceled donation drive, student group Swipe Out Hunger met with Sen. Tina Smith to advocate for students facing food insecurity. We’ll see you next week.

GERMUNDSON: Music in today’s episode was provided by Timbre and FreeSound.org