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.
You can find my team's public writing from this project at:
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)
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 (email@example.com).
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:
Northside Residents. North Minneapolis disproportionately experiences both high rates of crime and police contact as compared to the rest of the city. We completed over 120 interviews with residents in North Minneapolis in 2017-2019. Lasting from 30-90 minutes, these interviews start with a short survey and continue with an open-ended qualitative interview about participants’ attitudes toward police, experiences with police, knowledge of MPD reforms, attitudes towards police reform, and desires for future change.*
Activists & Advocacy Groups. I conducted 25+ open-ended qualitative interviews with individuals leading police reform efforts. These individuals include politicians, police oversight, journalists, local organizers (e.g. with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Black Visions Collective, and NAACP Minneapolis), and advocacy lawyers. Interviews lasted from 1-2.5 hours and provide narrative data on the person’s framing of the problems or challenges in policing and their work toward solutions. We also trace activists' organizing efforts from 2017-2023.
Ethnographic Observations of Policing Events. The team attended 30+ public events related to policing, including meetings of the Governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relationships, city council meetings, community forums, and vigils for the victims of police violence. In addition, we map public protests, activists' demands for change, and their reception in city hall.
Minneapolis Police Department. Using MPD’s press releases, media accounts, and historical archives, we document the long a timeline of MPD crises and reforms, from the start of the department through to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Department of Justice investigations in 2022-2023.
*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
Access Minnesota (July 2016) -- Racial Bias in Policing (Radio Interview)
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.