'Transformative Change' Proves Elusive: Police reform efforts falter in Minneapolis, yet hope persists.

AuthorLahm, Sarah
PositionMinneapolis, Minnesota

Still, her eyes light up often with laughter and warmth.

Wonsley Worlobah is running for a seat on the Minneapolis city council next year, as the city's first Black, female Democratic Socialist candidate. Her candidacy is fueled in part by the years she has spent as a grassroots activist in Minneapolis, working on campaigns for racial and economic justice.

All of these facets of Wonsley Worlobah's life--scholar, union employee, activist--coalesced on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was murdered.

Floyd, a Black man, was arrested over his alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill. When officers tried to fold his six-foot, four-inch frame into the back of a squad car, Floyd resisted, saying he was claustrophobic.

He ended up face down on the street, his wrists shackled together. A white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes while two other officers helped pin him down. A video taken by a young woman at the scene went viral, sparking a summer of unrest in Minneapolis and around the world.

But it wasn't Floyd's death, exactly, that prompted Wonsley Worlobah to run for office. It's what happened afterward, when efforts to reform the city's police department seemed more possible than ever--before they quickly collapsed.

Any "transformative changes" in Minneapolis, she says, whether they involved recent pushes for fair wages, paid sick time, or tenants' rights, came from the community up--and not from "any proactive work from city leaders."

She aims to change that.

Immediately after Floyd's murder, the streets of Minneapolis erupted in protest. The police department's Third Precinct building, home to Chauvin and the other involved officers who were there when Floyd was killed, was burned to a shell on May 28.

For many outside observers, it seemed like a watershed moment. Vicky Osterweil, writing for The Nation in June, expressed awe at the way events in Minneapolis had quickly led to calls to abolish or, at a minimum, defund the police.

There had been riots and protests after other high-profile police killings of Black and brown people, Osterweil notes, including the 2014 unrest that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot by police while walking home from a convenience store.

But none resulted in widespread support for police reform, Osterweil declared, until protesters breached Minneapolis's Third Precinct building and destroyed it. "I cannot recall another time when...

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