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Activists Investigate The History Of Relationships Of MPD With African Americans


So much has happened in Minneapolis in the last 24 hours, as we just heard - demonstrations - some of them violent - the burning of the police precinct, the arrest this afternoon of the fired police officer. The relationship between the Minneapolis Police Department and black residents has included violence since the department was established more than a century and a half ago. That is according to MPD150, an independent community coalition that published an investigation of the department's history. Well, Tony Williams is part of MPD150. He joins me now. Tony Williams, welcome.

TONY WILLIAMS: Good afternoon, Mary. I'm happy to be speaking to you from occupied Dakota land today.

KELLY: Occupied Dakota land. All right. Well, welcome. We are going to get to the history, but this is - it's so raw. I want to start just with your top line reaction to what happened last night, and then to Derek Chauvin being charged this afternoon with murder.

KELLY: Yeah. We're in deep mourning for George Floyd here in Minneapolis. Last night was an inevitable consequence to a long chain of events stretching back, like you said, more than 150 years. The last time that there was an uprising of this scale in Minneapolis was in 1967, where a similar incident of police brutality against black people led to an insurrection on the north side of our city. The city leaders, at that point, were promising that they could reform the department. And 50 years later, they're still promising.

KELLY: What is happening this week and what happened to George Floyd this week, how do you see that fitting into the pattern of the arc of history in the city?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think there's a lot you can say about the history of the department, but the biggest through line is a cycle. The police commit an atrocity. The community protests it. City leaders promise reforms, and then those reforms fail to change the underlying conditions that led to the atrocity in the first place. We can arrest as many killer cops as we want, but it doesn't bring back the lives they take. You know, and this is a pattern that we've seen with Jamar Clark. It's a pattern that we've seen with Philando Castile. It's a pattern we saw with Justine Damond. And now, it's a pattern we're seeing with George Floyd. So this really is a moment I think where people here are fed up, and know that the only way for us to look forward is to look towards a city without police.

KELLY: A city without police. I mean, what would that look like? Can you run a city without police?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I mean, we have thousands of years of history that proves that you can, right? The first police department in the U.S. was established in 1838. So policing has existed in America for less time than chattel slavery existed in America. Looking at the abolition of policing now is actually more possible and realistic than looking towards the abolition of slavery was. We don't have enough time to obviously dive into the complexity and the nuance of what a police-free society looks like, but it's largely about using public health approaches and getting people resources to meet people's needs. Crime stems from inequality, and if we can take care of each other we won't need police.

KELLY: In that model, though, what happens when a violent crime is committed and citizens are calling for an arrest, to be protected, to take this person off the streets? What happens if you don't have a police force?

WILLIAMS: Unfortunately, all of the answers to that require a lot more time than we have here today. I would love, love, love to talk to you more about it at length another time. In the meantime, I'd encourage people to check out We have a lot of resources that answer that question and many other questions about what police abolition looks like and how we respond to incidents of violence and other harm that happens in a community -

KELLY: Thank you. That's fair. We have about a minute left. But in the interim, in the reality we're in now, if I asked you to name - is there a single most pressing change you would like to see enacted that you think might make a difference? What would it be?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah. So Reclaim The Block is a local organization that's doing work around trying to defund the Minneapolis Police Department. We've been talking to the city council and lobbying for them. We actually got $1 million redirected out of the department two years ago. And we've just released a pledge asking City Council members to never again raise the MPD's budget, to cut $45 million of their $193 million budget and redirect it to community-led safety alternatives, and to keep focusing on other community-led health and safety strategies to keep Minneapolis safe.

KELLY: That's Tony Williams, a member of the community coalition MPD150, which has studied the relationship between communities of color and the Minneapolis Police Department. Tony Williams, thanks for coming on.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much, Mary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.