Policing, Race, and Violence

Since the eruption of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2014, police brutality, police violence, and police reform have emerged as central public policy concerns. Minneapolis has been at the center of these conversations. While our city was on the national forefront of progressive policing reforms (including body cameras, procedural justice and implicit bias trainings, diversion programs, and more), the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) also faces steep criticism from activists and residents alike, especially in the wake of recent high-profile police killings of civilians, including Jamar Clark and Justine Damond (Ruszczyk). In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by MPD officers, bringing Minneapolis to the center of a national and international protest movement to #DefundPolice. In this project, I use Minneapolis as a case study in the process of police reform (or transformation). How do activists, residents, and city leaders diagnose the problem in policing -- and its potential solutions? As citizens and cities grapple with the trauma of racialized police violence, understanding the role all of us play in shaping policing and public safety has never been more important.

My book, entitled The Minneapolis Reckoning: Race, Violence, and the Politics of Policing in America, will be published in May 2024 with Princeton University Press. The book traces the history of the MPD, from its founding through to the George Floyd murder and attempts to "end" policing as we know it in Minneapolis. As I show in the book, the post-2020 mobilization in the city emerged not from a single moment of rage, but decades of organizing efforts. Yet the politics of transforming policing proved more complex than they first appeared, as police came to represent both the threat of state violence and the promise of state protection. The book takes stock of what changed, and what remained the same, in Minneapolis' approach to public safety in that aftermath.

In 2024, I'll be traveling far and wide to talk about The Minneapolis Reckoning. To find a talk near you, see the Events & Talks page.

Other Writing

You can find my team's public writing from this project at:

Frey Lied, Amir Died: Connecting Community and Police Violence  (Scatterplot)

Why Voters Rejected Plans to Replace the Minneapolis Police Department (The Conversation)

Confronting Crime and Criminalization: Race, Gender and Policing in Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell (Gender Policy Report)

One Year Later: Policing, Violence, and Public Safety in Minneapolis (Scatterplot)

Dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department (Scatterplot)

Over-Policed and Under-Protected: Public Safety in North Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell and Christopher Robertson (CURA Reporter)

Legal Estrangement and Police Reform in Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell and Christopher Robertson (Scatterplot + reprinted at The Society Pages)

Our academic work can be found at:

Michelle S. Phelps, Christopher Robertson, and Amber Joy Powell. 2021. "We're still dying quicker than we can effect change": #BlackLivesMatter and the Limits of 21st Century Policing Reform (American Journal of Sociology)  [*Winner of the 2023 Joan Petersilia Outstanding Article Award from the American Society of Criminology]

Michelle S. Phelps, Anneliese Ward, and Dwjuan Frazier. 2021. From Police Reform to Police Abolition? How Minneapolis Activists Fought to Make Black Lives Matter (Mobilization)

Amber Joy Powell and Michelle S. Phelps. 2021. Gendered Racial Vulnerability: How Women Confront Crime and Criminalization (Law & Society Review)

Please email for free PDFs if the articles are paywalled (phelps@umn.edu). 

Data Collection

Over several years, my research team (which included, at various points, Santino Reynolds, AshLee Smith, De Andre' Beadle, Amber Joy Powell, Christopher Robertson, Dwjuan Frazier, Anneliese Ward, and Daniel Cueto-Villalobos) conducted several different data collection efforts to understand policing, police violence, and police reform, transformation, and abolition work in Minneapolis. The data include:


*Interview guide available here.

Media: Press Coverage, Interviews, Public Talks, and Op-Eds

Star Tribune (January 2024) -- In Minneapolis, Police Staffing Levels Continued to Drop in 2023. So Did Crime.

Star Tribune (Sept. 2023) -- Minneapolis Police Staffing Levels Reach Historic Lows Amid Struggle for Recruitment, Retention 

The Toronto Star (Feb 2023) -- After George Floyd

Minnesota Now (Sept. 2022) -- Democrats are Divided as House Passes Bill Package to Fund Police

Racket (Sept. 2022) -- When RaShall Brackney Tried to Reform the Charlottesville Police Department, Cops Fought Back. Would Minneapolis Be Different? 

Time Magazine (May 2022) -- Two Years After George Floyd's Murder, Minneapolis Is Still Struggling to Redefine Policing 

Independent (March 2022) -- From George Floyd to Amir Locke, have Minneapolis Police Learned Nothing? 

USA Today (Nov. 2021) -- Police Reform Efforts Continue Despite “No” Vote

NPR All Things Considered (Nov. 2021) -- Why Voters Rejected Plans to Replace the Minneapolis Police Department

Star Tribune (Sept. 2021) -- Minnesota Poll: Most Minneapolis Voters Want Reform, Not Fewer Cops (reprinted in PBS/Frontline)

WCCO with Chad Hartman (Sept. 2021) -- Dr. Michelle Phelps on Minneapolis Policing

New Yorker (July 2021) -- Derek Chauvin's Trial and George Floyd's City

New Republic (May 2021) -- The Justice Department Is Getting Back Into the Business of Police Oversight. Will It Matter? 

Star Tribune (May 2021) -- A Year After George Floyd’s Death, Seeking a New Direction for Policing (reprinted in PBS/Frontline)

MPR News with Angela Davis (May 2021) -- Police and Traffic Stops: When Should Officers Pull Drivers Over?

The TakeAway (April 2021) -- What's Next for the Minneapolis Police Department?

CNN (April 2021) -- Minnesota's Twin Cities Are Once Again the National Flashpoint over Race and Policing

WaPo (April 2021) -- As Derek Chauvin’s Former Bosses Line Up To Condemn Him, ‘Policing in America is On Trial’

WaPo (April 2021) -- The Chauvin Trial Addressed Extreme Violence. But Most Police Abuse is Routine. 

CNN (April 2021) -- Minneapolis Police Face Scrutiny After High-Profile Killings 

Star Tribune (March 2021) -- Chauvin Case Draws Inevitable Comparisons to Another High-Profile Police Murder Trial (Reprinted for FRONTLINE)

Kare 11 (Dec. 2020) -- University of Minnesota Study Surveys North Minneapolis Residents' Feelings About MPD

Minnesota Reformer (Dec. 2020) -- Black America is Over-Policed and Under-Protected

Breaking Free: Creating Transformative Change in Policing for Minneapolis.” What’s Next? Roundtables, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota. Dec. 3, 2020.

MN Daily (Dec. 2020) -- University Researchers Recommend Policing Changes Beyond Reform in North Minneapolis

CQ Researcher (Oct. 2020) -- Police Under Scrutiny - Can Law Enforcement Restore Public Trust?

University of Chicago (July 2020) -- Reimagining/Reinventing Police Conference

Star Tribune (July 2020) -- Reform, Defund, or Abolish -  What's The Future of Police in Minneapolis?

MN Daily (July 2020) -- What does changing the Minneapolis city charter mean for public safety?

Star Tribune (June 2020) -- Killing of George Floyd shows that years of police reform fall far short

WaPo (June 2020) -- Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people

WaPo (May 2020) -- Minneapolis struggled with police violence and adopted reforms. ‘And yet, George Floyd is still dead.

Dialogue Minnesota (June 2020) -- What Does "Dismantling" the Police Really Mean? 

MinnPost (June 2020) -- Dismantling the police, reimagining public safety 

CBS This Morning (June 2020) -- Minneapolis' Policing Problems

Almanac (June 2020) -- The Intersection of Public Safety and Public Health

Law & Society Association (May 2020) -- Cry the Beloved Country

North News (Jan. 2020) -- University Study on Policing Leads to Questions about How the Community is Researched 

WCCO (Oct. 2019) -- Good Question: How Many Police Officers Should A City Have? (TV Interview)

Star Tribune (Aug. 2018) -- Release of Blevins Video Exposes Divide Between Police, Communities of Color (News Article)

MinnPost (Aug. 2018) -- Many Questions, Few Answers, As Minneapolis Council Takes Up Proposal To Change Police Oversight (News Article)

Kare 11 (July 2018) -- No Charges Against Mpls. Officers in Blevins Shooting (TV Interview)

Yes! Magazine (March 2017) -- Defunding Police: How Antiracist Organizers Got Seattle to Listen (News Article)

MinnPost (Dec. 2016) -- Minneapolis is Hiring More Police Officers. Here's Why Some Advocates Argue That Won't Make the City Any Safer (News Article)

Chicago Reporter (Aug. 2016) -- Police Liability Insurance Measure Goes to Court in Minneapolis (News Article)

FiveThirtyEight (July 2016) -- Why Are So Many Black Americans Killed By Police? (News Article)

Access Minnesota (July 2016) -- Racial Bias in Policing (Radio Interview)

Scatterplot (July 2016) -- “Yes, There is Racial Bias in Police Shootings” (Blog Post)


Our thanks to the project funders, which included: University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship program; Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (Faculty Interactive Research Program); Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center; University of Minnesota Beverly and Richard Fink Summer Fellowship Program; Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, University of Minnesota; and Sociology Department, University of Minnesota.


Photo credit for the banner image: Adam Bettcher/Reuters