Armed Residents Patrol Minneapolis as City Council Works to Defund Police

A gun-rights activist wears a handgun as members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League hold a gun-rights rally outside of the Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va., July 9, 2019. (Michael A. McCoy/Reuters)

Minneapolis residents have begun forming neighborhood watches and armed security groups to protect their neighborhoods in the wake of unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May, according to a new report.

While officers are still patrolling the streets of Minneapolis, some citizens have taken security concerns into their own hands, as was the case when a group of black gun owners responded to a call from the local NAACP in late May to patrol the mostly African-American West Broadway business district for nearly two weeks, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Jamil Jackson, a leader of Minnesota Freedom Fighters, which advocates for black gun ownership, told the Journal the group kept the area free of looting or arson without firing a shot. 

“We were fired on,” he said, “but we weren’t going to return fire into a dark street.” The group, which has 45 members with a variety of backgrounds, including some who have military training, has since been asked to protect community events and has formed a security company.

Crime has surged following the protests and rioting in the city: Minneapolis saw 75 shootings in June, more than triple the 24 shootings during the same period last year. In the first half of July there were 43 shootings, compared with 29 in all of the previous July. 

“We have long supported neighborhood patrols,” John Elder, the Minneapolis police department’s chief spokesman, told the Journal. “All laws must be obeyed by those engaging. We have been clear these are in supplement to the police department and not as a substitute.”

As the city has descended into chaos, the city council on Friday approved its first permanent cuts to the police budget: $10 million will be cut from the $193 million budget, an answer to protestors’ call to defund the department. 

The council had also previously approved a proposal to replace the police department with a new department of community safety and violence prevention next May. The proposal could find its way onto the November ballot — though it remains to be seen how such an agency would look, such as whether it would have an armed criminal-justice component.  

Around $1 million in funds will be shifted to Cure Violence, a program that works to prevent things such as retaliatory shootings through community engagement. While the council had originally supported awarding community watch groups with money for T-shirts, walkie-talkies and training, such a proposal was not included in the final budget. 

“We’re not trying to create an armed force to replace the police department,” said Graham Faulkner, an aide to council member Alondra Cano, who had proposed shifting funds to support the community watch groups. “We’re trying to support the groups that are out there.”

The spike in crime is consistent with patterns witnessed in Ferguson, Mo. and other cities that experienced periods of unrest after officer-involved deaths.

One resident told the Journal her community began constructing a barrier to close off two blocks of their street — first using trash cans before moving on to debris, a boat with a trailer, and eventually, a permanent gate — while neighborhood men began an armed patrol after “it got to the point where crime had no consequences.”

“It was being done deliberately out in the open,” 30-year-old Tania Rivera said. “Drive-through drug dealing, drive-through prostitution, everything from gunshots to assaults to sex out in the public. Everything you didn’t want your neighborhood to look like.” 

Still, many residents in the crime-stricken city are still hesitant to call the police for help, citing distrust and a concern that police only escalate tense situations.

“If people choose not to call the police, that is not something we can control,” Elder said.

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