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Minneapolis councillors pledge to dismantle and rebuild police department

The move comes amid nationwide protests against racism following the death of George Floyd.

People march from the governor's mansion in St. Paul, Minneapolis on Saturday
People march from the governor's mansion in St. Paul, Minneapolis on Saturday
Image: Julio Cortez via PA Images

COUNCILLORS IN THE US city of Minneapolis have pledged to dismantle and rebuild the police department, after the death in custody of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests about racism in law enforcement.

Floyd was killed on 25 May when white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on the unarmed black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and is to appear in court today.

“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” Council President Lisa Bender told CNN, after a majority of councillors committed to the effort.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, however, is against getting rid of the department, and the head of the city’s powerful police union, Bob Kroll, appeared on stage last year with US President Donald Trump.

The vow by the majority of councillors came a day after Frey was booed at and asked to leave a Defund the Police rally. He later told AFP he supported “massive structural reform to revise this structurally racist system” but not “abolishing the entire police department”.

Bystander video of the incident – which captured Floyd calling for his mother and saying he could not breathe – has sparked two weeks of mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country.

Yesterday, protesters in cities including Washington, New York and Winter Park, Florida, began focusing their outrage over the death of the unarmed Floyd into demands for police reform and social justice.

Mitt Romney, a Republican senator from Utah, joined a group of Christian protesters marching toward the White House. He tweeted photos of himself in the procession, along with the simple caption, Black Lives Matter.

Although Romney has been a rare Republican voice of opposition to Trump, he was joined last week by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who said criticism of Trump was overdue.

Trump’s tough approach to putting down protests continued to draw exceptional rebukes from top retired military officers, a group normally loath to criticise a civilian leader.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell joined them yesterday, saying Trump had “drifted away” from the Constitution. Powell, a Republican moderate, said Trump had weakened America’s position around the world and that in November’s presidential election he would support Democrat Joe Biden.

most-of-minneapolis-city-council-pledges-to-begin-the-process-of-ending-police-department Alondra Cano, City Council 9th ward member, speaks to community members at The Path Forward meeting at Powderhorn Park, a meeting between the Minneapolis City Council and community members yesterday Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

‘This isn’t a battlefield’

Condoleezza Rice, who succeeded Powell as secretary of state under President George W Bush, told CBS she would “absolutely” oppose using the military against peaceful protesters, adding, “This isn’t a battlefield”.

The president has ordered National Guard troops to begin withdrawing from the nation’s capital, whose Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who jousted with Trump over the use of force in her city, told Fox News there had been no arrests on Saturday despite the protests which saw thousands moving through the capital’s streets.

A week earlier, however, there were fires and vandalism.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told ABC that Washington had been “a city out of control” and denied a problem of systemic racism among police.

The Trump administration has proposed no specific policy changes in response to the widespread outrage over Floyd’s death.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said they would introduce legislation in the House of Representatives today to make policing more accountable. 

The legislation is expected to make it easier to sue police officers over deadly incidents, to ban the sort of choke holds that led to Floyd’s death, and to establish a national database to record police misconduct.

‘A lot of work to do’

One member of the caucus, Representative Val Demings of Florida, a former police chief in the city of Orlando, told ABC that “systemic racism is always the ghost in the room”.

“What we have to do as a nation is hold police accountable,” said Demings, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

It is unclear what support the proposed reforms might find in the Republican-controlled Senate – or whether Trump might sign such legislation into law.

Some jurisdictions have moved already to embrace reforms – starting with bans on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters yesterday that he would cut the city’s police budget and shift some funds to youth and social services, local media reported. 

Trump seized on the call by some protesters to slash police funding to attack Biden, tweeting without evidence that “not only will Sleepy Joe Biden DEFUND THE POLICE, but he will DEFUND OUR MILITARY!”.

The president is scheduled to host a roundtable with law enforcement today. 

Biden, who has accused Trump of fanning “the flames of hate,” plans to travel to Houston today to visit Floyd’s family. He will also record a message to be read at Floyd’s funeral tomorrow.

Resignation

Meanwhile, following online fury and intense criticism from many New York Times staffers, the paper’s editorial page head has resigned in controversy after publishing an op-ed by a US senator who urged military force against protestors nationwide.

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James Bennet – the editorial page editor since May 2016 – faced intense backlash after initially defending the column headlined “Send in The Military” by Republican US Senator Tom Cotton.

The hardline op-ed – which Bennet initially defended as an example of the newspaper’s commitment to ideological diversity – was met with both internal and external outrage.

Some 800 Times staffers signed a petition in protest of its publication.

The company’s publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, also initially defended the decision to issue the column but later said the essay fell short of NYT standards.

Bennet also admitted he had not read the column before its publication.

On Sunday, Sulzberger dubbed James “a journalist of enormous talent and integrity” in an NYT statement announcing the resignation.

The statement did not mention the op-ed controversy, but the paper quoted Sulzberger as saying in a note to staff that “last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years”.

“James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change.”

© AFP 2020

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