In a veto-proof vote, the Minneapolis city council voted to defund and dismantle the city’s police department. Many have rightly pointed out that such a move would cause more suffering and death to the city’s black communities (as well as the entire population).
When asked what would happen without a police department to call, say, during a house invasion, city council head Lisa Bender even went so far as to say that white residents should just realize that even being able to call the police in this situation is a function of their white privilege. Apparently Bender believes they should let it happen for the greater good:
If you are a comfortable white person asking to dismantle the police I invite you to reflect: are you willing to stick with it? Will you be calling in three months to ask about garage break-ins? Are you willing to dismantle white supremacy in all systems, including a new system?
— Lisa Bender (@lisabendermpls) June 3, 2020
Yet, there must be a better way to address the issue of police brutality, the issue that triggered the protests and rioting in the first place. To this end, we spoke to Mohamed Ahmed, a Somali American based in Minneapolis, ground zero for today’s current events.
Ahmed is the founder of Average Mohamed, a cartoon series designed to target people dealing with ideological challenges that lead to radicalization. It’s a project Clarion Project has previously featured.
Ahmed also launched a successful program for youth to build healthy relationships with local law enforcement.
Ahmed worked in the store across from where George Floyd was murdered and was acquainted with Derek Chauvin, the arrested officer responsible for kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
Within days of the riots, Minneapolis K-12 public schools and the University of Minnesota severed relations with the Minneapolis Police Department.
What Ahmed has to say is needed now more than ever before.
Ahmed: Race relations between the Minneapolis Police Department and Black Community is bad. The death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police outraged Minnesotans of all creeds, the cavalier way he was killed. I used to run a store right across from where it happened. I know the policeman involved. There is genuine outrage by the mayor, governor, elected officials and the public on this death.
Clarion Project: What was it like to work in that neighborhood where the killing took place?
Average Mohamed: We had bulletproof glass to serve our customers at that store. Crime went down in the neighborhood. I asked corporate to take down the bullet proof glass. I know this cop [Derek Chauvin] because he would come to my store.
I could see crime go down thanks to MPD [Minneapolis Police Department]. But this death deserves justice; four officers were fired for it. Demonstrations are happening, and I pray for our police department at this time, and I pray for our community of color too.
We desperately need a new approach to one another that does not dehumanize us all. If there is no justice, then there will be no peace either. We need a change in the relation between police and community of color in America.
The city adjacent to Minneapolis, St. Paul, their police Department gets it. We have worked on a project with them over two years before all these headlines, building resilience and understanding, and using the “Modern Policing Approach.”
Clarion Project: What is the Modern Policing Approach?
Ahmed: Modern Policing is year-round police engagement with all communities. There are ongoing projects, the goals of which are to create goodwill between the police and the community. The police are working intimately with organizations and youth independent of crime and law issues.
They get to know each other, learn to respect each other and find support for one another. Old-school policing is waiting until a headline like today to try to reach out to the community. That does not work.
We worked with over 100 youths in two years. They created a video club. We taught them public speaking, how to write and create videos using their own scripts. They acted in the videos with help from St. Paul police officers and the community, engaging at-risk youths to work together with the police department.
Clarion Project: Can you tell me more about the video club?
Ahmed: We recruit kids for the program, always asking their parents’ permission. We have a curriculum which we teach once a week as a class. Then we ask them to make videos about the things they want to talk about, what do they want or need to tell the world.
They create the scripts, record and acts in the videos. We give out awards for the best videos on graduation day. The kids love it. The first group was for boys, followed by a group for girls. St. Paul police officers help throughout the process. It’s a very popular program. We had to say no to hundreds of kids who wanted to join it.
The police officers taught and helped throughout the entire process. They actively engaged the youths in sports and even in creating scripts. The assistant police chief was the master of ceremonies for the graduation.
Clarion Project: Knowing the people involved in the circumstances around George Floyd’s murder, how do you feel about his killing being so cavalier? Has it changed you or how you think about race issues? How do you think this will fuel extremists?
Ahmed: We know and understand that racism is a driver for recruitment into extreme ideas. We also know the mentality changed for youths, like use of abusive languages against police — like calling them pigs. A recruiter will try to alienate our youths to becoming outright extremists in their own right. Not paying attention to Islamophobia and racism can lead our youth to react by adopting extreme ideas and values.
Clarion Project: You said you knew Derek Chauvin, the policeman who had his knee on Floyd’s neck. How well did you know him? Were there any signs of this behavior before?
Ahmed: The police would come to my store on routine patrols. He [Chauvin] always asked if everything is okay or if needed any help from him while he was doing his job. That’s why this incident came as a shock to me …
The neighborhood has become gentrified. More middle class folks moved in. Houses that went for $90k started going for $150k. Crime dropped due to heavy work by police department. Livability went up.
Clarion Project: What can be done to move forward?
Ahmed: We need a new approach based on grassroots work within our communities to engage the police all year round, every year. This would build community understanding and resilience. Average Mohamed did a two-year project with the St. Paul Police Department across the river. We engaged youths about policing in America and created programs with them, like the videos we did together. Their parents and friends got involved, too. This is building understanding and resilience at the community level vis-a-vis the police department and their relationship to people of color.
Clarion Project: Dehumanization of the other keeps happening. What else do you think is part of this problem?
Ahmed: Labels being used by all is part of the problem. Calling police “pigs” and black people “killers,” for example. Social media sites that promote hate of black people, calling them criminals. They deserve harsh treatment by the law. We need to step back from dehumanizing each other. We need each other — for our safety and for our city, state and country — as citizens to not be in fear.
Clarion Project: Where can people learn more about your work with the community?
Ahmed: It is on my website at averagemohamed.com. If you go to the projects and outreach section, you can learn more about the video projects we build in partnership with local police.