U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is supporting a Minneapolis ballot measure to replace the city’s Police Department with a public safety agency, putting her at odds with two of the state’s leading Democrats who have come out against the ballot question.
“We have an opportunity, once and for all, to listen to those most impacted by police brutality and the communities who have been demanding change for decades,” Omar wrote in a Star Tribune opinion piece published online Tuesday. “We have a mandate, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to deliver a public safety system rooted in compassion, humanity and love, and to deliver true justice. I hope we fulfill it.”
The announcement from Omar, a Democrat who represents Minneapolis in Congress, comes after Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar publicly opposed the ballot question. A yes vote on the measure would change the city’s charter and create a Department of Public Safety to employ “a comprehensive public health approach” that could include police officers “if necessary.”
The proposal is drawing intense attention ahead of the November election. Floyd’s killing last year by a Minneapolis police officer and the protests that followed became a national flash point in debates over race and violence by police.
In the opinion piece, Omar pointed to her view that Floyd’s murder “was not a one-off event,” and recalled witnessing a police shooting by the city’s Police Department when she was a teenager.
“The truth is the current system hasn’t been serving our city for a long time,” Omar wrote.
In announcing her support for the ballot question, Omar urged a system of public safety “actually rooted in people’s basic human needs.” She criticized the city’s current charter, and called for an approach that has a focus on social and mental health workers who would “work alongside officers to give people the help they need and make our communities safer.”
Omar also pushed back on what she said is a “well-funded campaign trying to mislead voters,” on the ballot question. “Let’s be clear about what the amendment is not: It has nothing to do with funding levels, much less defunding’ public safety in Minneapolis,” wrote Omar.
“There are no financial components of this amendment,” Omar said in the opinion piece.
The proposal, written by a political committee called Yes 4 Minneapolis, would remove the requirement for Minneapolis to fund a police department with a minimum number of officers based on the city’s population. Earlier this year, a judge ordered the city to hire more police officers, saying it wasn’t fulfilling the requirements outlined in the city charter.
Omar’s support is a break from the views expressed by some of her fellow congressional Democrats from Minnesota. Rep. Angie Craig, who represents a swing congressional district, announced last week that she is “strongly opposed” to the ballot question, adding that “the Yes 4 Minneapolis referendum is shortsighted, misguided and likely to harm the very communities that it seeks to protect.”
When Walz was asked about the topic last week, he pointed to the potential for confusion from voters concerning the ballot question and shared his view that “we see this both here and across the country, increasing crime coming out of COVID.”
“We need to recognize that the police force is going to be part of that solution,” Walz said.
Soon after, a spokesperson for Klobuchar, the state’s senior senator, made public her opposition.
“Senator Klobuchar has long advocated for much-needed police reform legislation in the Senate,” the spokesperson said. “She has also repeatedly stated her opposition to defunding the police.”
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.
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