Police divestment a focus of Minneapolis budget hearing

At yesterday’s 2019 budget hearing a large contingent of folks showed up to Minneapolis City Hall to ask the City Council to divest 5% from police, and invest in community instead. Among them was Wedge resident Andrew Beeman:

“I’m also a public health worker. I can tell you an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s think about some of that preventative work we can do.”

Mayor Frey’s budget provides $40 million in funding for affordable housing programs. It also includes a 2.8% increase in funding for the police department, for a total of $184.5 million. The Mayor has proposed a total budget for 2019 of $1.55 billion. The City Council will amend and vote on Mayor Frey’s proposed 2019 budget next week.

Other community members spoke in support of funding for affordable housing, and for Village Financial Cooperative. Village Financial is a black-led credit union based in North Minneapolis.

Shiranthi Goonathilaka, Village Financial’s director of engagement, testified that city investment in a local, black-led financial institution gives “agency, financial access, and power” and serves as a “form of reparations, as well as being able to repair the direct and passive harms done to our community over time.”

Wintana Melekin, a business owner and former community organizer, said that the response from police to the idea of a 5% divestment was scare tactics — suggesting community programs would be the first to go. She sees that as evidence the money could be put to better use:

“You’re now hearing rumors about what may be cut. And the first things we’re hearing from the police department are community programs that they want to cut. I think it is very telling that the first thing they see on the chopping block are the direct programs that the community needs the most. I think that we should take that money away. If you don’t want it–if you think it’s the first thing you want to throw out, then let’s let the community run it. Let’s take those resources and invest it in some community programming.”

Andrea Kiepe, a landlord who operates four rental units, spoke in favor of rent control, protections for renters, and expansion of public housing:

“If I can break even renting out a 100-year-old house that I bought at the top of the housing bubble without raising rents for 10 years, then the staff at the city of Minneapolis should be able to run public housing and at least break even.”

A resident of the Harrison neighborhood showed up in body armor to testify in support of increased police funding. She said that her law-abiding neighbors, who carry guns and regularly train and shooting ranges, would begin to “return fire” on “teenage gangs” if the City Council failed to act.