In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers, a call to defund police departments has gained traction across the U.S. More people than ever are embracing the idea that the time for police reform has passed.
As an anti-police brutality organizer, Kandace Montgomery has observed the Minneapolis Police Department undergo years of reform efforts. After 24-year-old Jamar Clark was killed by police in 2015, she helped organize a Black Lives Matter chapter in the city. By 2018, it was clear to her and other organizers in the city that only a plan to take money away from police and give it to other community-led safety initiatives would protect black and brown people. The organization she directs, Black Visions Collective, campaigned alongside its counterpart Reclaim the Block to defund the Minneapolis police, yet the mayor still raised the police budget more than $8 million this year.
In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s murder, the organizers brought their demands back to city council members — that members never increase the police budget again, that they cut the police’s budget by $45 million to help manage Covid-19 shortfalls, expand investment in community-led health and safety strategies, and compel the police to cease violence against community members.
The Intercept spoke to Montgomery about the movement to defund police in Minneapolis. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Paint for me a world without police. Where would all that money go instead?
A world without police would look like safety that is controlled and is led by our community, that focuses on transformation and transformative justice. A world without police means that everybody has what they need to survive and what they need to live healthy lives. It means we have the money that we need for education, health care, housing, workers’ rights. It is a total transformation away from a racist and violent system into one that truly fosters our safety and well-being. When we are talking about police reform, what we’re not talking about is the fact that black communities actually need resources to keep ourselves safe. We make the choice to resource punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones that make communities safer.
How did you get involved in this movement?
My experience as a young black queer person just called me to it. Honestly, I think I didn’t really have any other option. Especially the experience of my family, of most of the men and the women experiencing incarceration and police violence directly, called me to want to fight up against that. And over the last few years, after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and then the murder of Mike Brown and the nonindictment of Darren Wilson, I have specifically committed my time and my energy and my future to fighting for black liberation for all black lives.
“In 2015, I think that we were very righteously angry, and we were clear about the problem. Now, we are clear about the solution.”
What did the anti-police brutality movement in the city look like at the time Jamar Clark was killed by police in Minneapolis in 2015? What’s different now?
In 2015, I think that we were very righteously angry, and we were clear about the problem. Now, we are clear about the solution. I think that’s the distinction. Now in 2020, we know that justice is not just arresting the officers. Justice goes so much further, because we are interested in not having to be out in the streets anymore, grieving and angry, protesting that another life has been lost. We know that we cannot continue to invest in strategies that call for police reform. The only path forward is transitioning completely away from the Minneapolis Police Department and policing across the country and across the globe really.
What are the biggest wins and the biggest failures you’ve seen since 2015 that laid the groundwork for this moment?
When George Floyd was killed, the Minneapolis Police Department had plenty of reforms in place. They’re ineffective and insufficient. It is putting a police officer in a T-shirt instead of a uniform. It’s still the same thing.
Reclaim the Block began in 2018. Organizing has always been the thing behind transformative change. MLK didn’t march alone. He actually was part of an entire organization that was in it for the long term. Having an organization allows us to collectively raise the resources necessary to fight for our rights and move a long-term agenda, because this work isn’t free.
In 2018, we engaged our community and articulated a story about what’s possible if we divest from the Minneapolis Police Department and invest in community-led safety. That work resulted in $1.1 million moving away from the police department and into opening the Office of Violence Prevention, which does street-level violence intervention that prioritizes not involving police. The money also was rerouted to supporting other organizations that were doing community-level intervention and safety work.
But the year after that, we saw a really huge pushback. What we didn’t fully anticipate was the mayor and the police department working together to create a smear campaign and create a false narrative that crime in our city was increasing. We saw about six months of article after article about this.
The mayor ended up increasing the 2020 police budget by over $8 million. So, what we know is that when you push really hard for transformative change, we will get even harder pushback. And so we have to be really strategic and smart. This moment — we have been building for it.
How has Black Visions Collective responded to George Floyd’s murder? How did your organizing contribute to the actions in the streets?
People took to the streets organically. That was not us. Without any organization, without any nudging, people decided that it was necessary to protest, and it was necessary to ignite an uprising across the country and the globe. As an organization, what we did immediately was called for the defunding of the police. Because we had been calling for that beforehand, we were able to quickly pivot and make it really clear to our city council members that our community was no longer going to be OK with settling with maybe an arrest that doesn’t actually result in a conviction — that we want a total transformation, and we had been waiting too long. The national attention creates an opportunity. George’s spirit as an ancestor has allowed us to have a much larger conversation across the country about what justice actually looks like in these situations.
Most importantly, we are grieving the loss of a black community member. We’re doing that again. Many of us helped found Black Lives Matter and Black Visions Collective for Jamar. It’s incredibly unfair, especially for young black people, that we have to be out here in these streets, putting our lives at risk during the pandemic to fight for justice.
“It’s incredibly unfair, especially for young black people, that we have to be out here in these streets, putting our lives at risk during the pandemic to fight for justice.”
Some of our organizers have been out there nightly, just helping to hold down the space at the different occupations in the city, grilling food, doing things like that. We’ve been offering community trainings around direct action and how to stay safe while protesting. We planned a direct action ourselves in which we left art in memory of George Floyd at each of the city council members’ homes, calling on them to defund the police.
Much of our work has been organizing with other black Minnesotans. We have a call every single day with about 70 different black organizers who are trying to coordinate how to get supplies to our folks, how to get donations to our folks, how to train people to be medics, so that we can provide medical support on the ground at protests, who are thinking about art and how we can tap into artists to create expressions of what we are talking about that are accessible to our community members, as well as organizing healers to provide healing for organizers on the front line and community members who are involved.
How do you think about the property destruction that took place in the city?
I honor and respect the ways in which my community has decided to grieve, even if it’s not how I personally choose to grieve. I want to make sure that all of the small businesses of color are able to redevelop and rebuild and continue to provide necessary services to our community. And I’m calling on our elected officials to ensure that developers do not come in and take away all of those businesses from black and brown people.
What do you think about the reactions of public officials in the city? How have they responded to your demands, and what has gone unanswered?
I’m deeply disappointed in Mayor Jacob Frey. He has not reached out to our group, has not reached out to several groups, actually, to talk about what is the solution forward. It is time for him to get out. He is not the visionary leader that Minneapolis needs and deserves.
For our city council members, they have been much more responsive, and many of them have actually committed to us to really disband the Minneapolis Police Department and transition over the next few years away from having policing in Minneapolis. There’s still work to do with some city council members who just aren’t able to truly imagine what the future could look like.
Minneapolis Public Schools ending its contract with the police is a watershed moment. I know many of the young people who have been calling for school resource officers out of their schools for the last five years or more. Folks who are able to take bold steps are doing it quickly, because they know we don’t have time to wait.
This is going to be a transition — and not a transition that’s going to take 20, 30 years. It needs to happen within five or less. But we do have to be patient with ourselves that we don’t know all of the answers. Right now, we are stepping up and figuring them out as we provide the support to our community.
The mutual aid groups that have been created over the past week are super critical. They’re literally feeding people who would not be able to eat, would not have diapers for their babies. They’re essential, and they’re allowing community members to sustain their needs. They are building in real time models of community safety.
Thinking about a transition plan away from the Minneapolis Police Department is going to be critical. What’s next is continuing to engage our city council, but I think even more so engaging our community to continue to bring this demand to their doorstep. We can’t allow this energy to die down. Minneapolis is going to be watched all across the country.