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Activists debate both sides of Minneapolis public safety ballot question

KARE 11's Jana Shortal had a conversation with two Minneapolis activists who have strong opinions on city question two.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis voters will head to the polls in November to decide which direction they want the city to go regarding policing and public safety.

There have been polls on the questions, op-eds and debates.

This week, KARE 11's Jana Shortal had a conversation with two Minneapolis activists — who are also voters — who have strong opinions on city question two.

One of them will vote "yes" to replace the police department with a new department of public safety. The other, a strong "no."

For years, Nekima Levy Armstrong has been on the frontlines, demanding equal rights for all.

So has D.A. Bullock, a filmmaker and activist.

"I'm voting 'no' on question two," said Levy Armstrong, a lawyer, former president of the NAACP and a longtime activist. "Minneapolis residents deserve to have a comprehensive, cohesive, well-thought-out plan to review before they take the step of creating a new Department of Public Safety."

Bullock has a different take.

"I'm not saying, 'People, if you are voting 'no,' that you are just accepting the way it is,'" he said. "All I'm saying is, factually if you vote 'no,' the day after we vote 'no,' things are exactly the way they are now."

Nekima and D.A. both live on the northside of Minneapolis, and they've both spent thousands of hours fighting for changes in policing in the city.

It is because of that, that hearing them talk about question two is important.

"I think that part of the problem here is the fact that we have set up a false dichotomy between this notion of keeping things the way that they are, or supposedly, radically shifting and dismantling the current department," Levy Armstrong said.  

She added, "I think that it boxes people in and makes us feel that we have to choose between one or the other when perhaps neither of those choices is the actual solution we are seeking."

Bullock says he isn't asking voters to trust the mayor or the city council. To put it simply, he's advocating for what he calls a better government structure.

"I'm saying it, at the very least, buys us an opportunity to not be solely reliant on Chief Arradondo and the mayor in order to invoke these changes we want to see," Bullock said. "I'm not saying there is a guarantee written in there, but obviously there is no guarantee written in what we have currently."

Levy Armstrong says whatever happens will be especially relevant to the city's Black community.

"I'm not averse to thinking about ways that we can change the current system," she said. "What I am averse to, is being asked to vote on something that has no real substance and no real certainty, and being made false promises about what will happen when the lives of Black community members hang in the balance."

Bullock argues voters can't blame the future system for current conditions under the current system.

"They're not going into the Black community and asking us what we want — the current system," he said. "It's not operating at a high level of competence. We have always been over-policed and under-protected; it's not transparent and accessible to change."

On that point of Bullock's, Levy Armstrong agrees: The current form of policing isn't working, especially for the Black community.

Where they split apart is what to do about it, which in essence, is question two.

"I'm choosing to vote 'yes' to open the door to a new set of possibilities, otherwise, we are confined by the same set of possibilities that we were all these years prior," Bullock said.

Levy Armstrong continued, "There are a lot of folks in our community voting 'no,' who want to see a shift in our community and who are concerned about what they're voting 'yes' to because nothing substantive has been presented. That is a fair reason for people to vote 'no' to this proposed amendment."

The entire conversation between Bullock and Levy Armstrong is powerful and worth the time to listen if you are voting in Minneapolis.

The extended interview is posted below.

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