Policing and Racial Justice on the Ballot in 2021 Elections
- Policing took the forefront during this latest batch of elections, including in Minneapolis.
- Many ballot measures centered on the amount of police presence particular areas should have.
- Experts say the results show the need for a new way of discussing police reform.
From Albany to Cleveland, police reform emerged as an issue on ballots across the country last week.
Yet these ballot measures — most of which centered on the amount of police presence particular areas should have — had varying degrees of success.
In Minneapolis, for example, voters had to decide whether to replace the city’s police department with a Department of Public Safety that would employ a “comprehensive public health approach” to ensure the community’s welfare.
The ballot measure, which was prompted by George Floyd’s murder, was rejected by about 60% of Minneapolis’ voters, according to data from the Office of Minnesota Secretary of State.
“I’m not surprised the ballot measure failed,” Sekou Franklin, author of the book After the Rebellion: Black Youth, Social Movement Activism, and the Post-Civil Rights Generation told Insider. “Typically a lot of voters will support police accountability, but they may not support initiatives that they feel goes too far.”
But Cleveland’s ballot measure fared much differently.
94% of the Ohio city’s voters were in favor of instituting an amendment to create a civilian-led board and Community Police Commission that would have final say in police policies and discipline.
As these and other races show, policing took the forefront during this latest batch of elections, and experts say they will only become a more significant part of candidates’ platforms as we head towards the Midterm elections.
Beyond Minneapolis and Cleveland, policing impacts elections
In addition to Minneapolis and Cleveland, there were several other places where police reform was on the ballot.
In Albany, residents voted to implement a civilian-led committee that would provide oversight of police investigations and complaints, while Austin, Texas residents overwhelmingly voted against Proposition A, which would have established minimum police staffing and required two police officers per 1,000 people in the city.
It may be too early to tell what the greater implications of these different ballot measures are, particularly in Minneapolis, said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University.
However, one thing that’s for certain is that police reform is an ongoing issue that requires greater attention, she said.
“It’s a hard sell to cut back on support when people want more protection, but that doesn’t mean that the discussion of racial justice and police reform isn’t over,” Gillespie said.
She told Insider that “public opinion data shows us there’s consensus among African Americans and others that Black people are subject to harmful treatment by the police.”
“The way to go about addressing these issues is an open debate,” she said.
Gillespie noted that the slogan “defund the police” falls short as it has often been misused and equated with abolition, which influences how people vote.
Defunding the police generally involves reallocating funds from law enforcement to social services and is not the same as abolishing law enforcement altogether, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit social sciences think tank.
“People need to be careful and thoughtful about their marketing,” Gillespie said. “Defund the police was clearly not message-tested to see how the slogan could be weaponized.”
Former police officers, other law enforcement officials see success
Policing also played an important role in the campaigns of Eric Adams and Tyrone Garner.
Adams, New York City’s mayor-elect, and Garner, Kansas City’s mayor-elect, are both Black men and former high-ranking police officers who’ve made public safety significant parts of their platform.
Adam’s plan specifically focuses on being “laser-focused violence crime—especially gun violence” by “reinventing the anti-crime unit as an anti-gun unit,” per his website. He is also calling for resources that will address trauma in communities experiencing gun violence.
Garner, for his part, ran on a campaign of expanding law enforcement wellness programs, declaring drug addiction as a county-wide crisis, and an ordinance that would make it illegal for law enforcement to lie on an official report or in a country proceeding, among other public safety ideas.
In the case of Adams, his police background has been controversial, particularly in a city like New York, where polls show constituents are divided over police presence.
Yet his police background ultimately did not hurt him at the polls Tuesday, nor did it hurt him in the sizeable Democratic primary in June.
Gillespie suggested his success is at least in part because he was perceived to be more moderate than his competitors.
As the 2022 Midterm elections approach, experts say they expect policing will continue to remain a wedge issue.
Voters view policing as both an issue of racial justice and public safety, according to Gillespie, who said that the recent uptick in homicides and violent crime has exacerbated existing divisions over the role of police in communities.
“It’s going to take some time to dig in deeper to see what the broader implications from Tuesday elections are,” Gillespie said. “But we can’t ignore the fact that Republicans evoke law and order which has racial undertones and disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities.”