After George Floyd, Who Will Police Minneapolis?

by Times Newsroom 1
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Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, accompanied by an MPD sergeant, taking a knee as the remains of George Floyd are driven to a memorial service in his honor, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 4, 2020. Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images. 

Krithika Varagur

Minneapolis, Minnesota—To begin, two tales of Twin Cities police.

First, Donn Landrum. The fifty-three-year-old served three foreign tours in the Navy, discharged right before the Gulf War. Thanks to his military experience, he quickly found work in private security after that. Landrum, who is black, grew up in Chicago—and still wears a Bulls jersey—but has lived in Minneapolis since 1987. While working, he eventually went back to school and obtained a bachelor’s degree so that he could enroll in the city’s police academy, which he did in 2008.

He quit within six weeks. “The disparities in how they treated black people were just too big,” he told me. “It was my deep feeling that it couldn’t be changed.”

He returned to the private sector, working for various security firms over the years. One of his colleagues in 2017 was George Floyd. “A really nice guy,” he recalled. “Never started anything.” Landrum attended Floyd’s funeral last month.

Second, Clarence Castile. He is the uncle of Philando, who was infamously murdered by police in 2016 in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. The sixty-year-old works as a landscaper, but at the time of his nephew’s death, he was well on his way to his certification as a reserve police officer in St. Paul. He went ahead and completed it, and took up a volunteer post that requires a hundred hours of service per year, usually to assist in tasks like traffic control for public events. Today, Castile wears the same blue uniform as regular cops, but does not carry a firearm.

“I had a moment of reflection when that happened, for sure, when I didn’t think I could go through with it,” he told me. “We saw seven bullets get emptied into his [Philando’s] body. I was so angry; I hated cops. But it wasn’t all cops who killed my nephew… I had friends from high school who became cops and they cried with me, in their uniforms,” he went on. “My family doesn’t hate cops. If we turn angry and stay angry, all it would do is fuel other people’s anger.”

Those two accounts go to the heart of a raging debate in Minneapolis over whether to reform or abolish the city’s police department in the wake of the protests over George Floyd’s murder that have shaken the nation, and the world beyond. When nine members of the City Council stood together in a park on Sunday June 7, a fortnight after Floyd’s killing, and announced their intent to “disband” the department, it seemed like an astonishing victory for the popular uprising. The council members stated simply that “The Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions.” Even after the heat of that moment, every single member of the council voted on June 27 to advance a proposal to create a new department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, to be led by someone with “non-law enforcement experience.” 

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