Minneapolis, MN — Results from the recent listening sessions hosted by the the City of Minneapolis and a consulting firm about the future location of the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct that was torched after George Floyd was murdered by former 3rd Precinct officer Derek Chauvin will be presented at 10 a.m. on July 18 during the Minneapolis City Council meeting.
Unicorn Riot did an exclusive interview with City Council Member Robin Wonsley, the first Black democratic socialist to get elected to the Minneapolis City Council. She said Mayor Jacob Frey and his allies have conceded on the issue after community members overwhelmingly expressed opposition to bringing back the police precinct that has traumatized so many people.
Wonsley, who called the 3rd Precinct “a site of torture,” said that although activists have lost many recent battles against the pro-police mayor and his corporate backers, the people are winning the war and Tuesday’s report is evidence of that. “We’re about to have a second ‘block the 3rd Precinct’ party, because that’s literally what they’re about to say … We’re not moving forward.”
Before running for city council, Wonsley was a community organizer who co-founded the Seward Police Abolitionist Group, made up of neighbors who opposed rebuilding the 3rd Precinct and supported defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. But the young office-holder told Unicorn Riot that to her abolition means much more than getting rid of police; it’s about building something community-centered and responsive in its place.
After entering office in 2022 by defeating a 16-year incumbent to represent Minneapolis’ second ward, Wonsley and her colleagues voted to redevelop and repurpose the old burnt out precinct.
“Community members want to have ownership over what’s going to happen at that site and to not just have it sit there and be a reminder of… one of the most traumatic events in our city’s history.” The council member said that the old torture site could be transformed into something positive, “a site of community ownership, of us moving towards a different vision around public safety, around what it means to be a just and equitable city.”
City leadership asked Wonsley to help lead these efforts. She got her colleagues to vote to allocate $100,000 towards hiring an outside consultant to lead a community feedback process on how to redevelop the abandoned precinct. That is, until she found out earlier this year that the mayor undercut her efforts to transform the building that once housed Floyd’s killer into something purposeful for the community.
Mayor Frey put forward his own plan, announcing earlier this year that the city will be rebuilding the precinct that was ransacked and torched three years ago and instructed city staff to solicit community feedback regarding its new location.
City administrators and their contracted consulting firm, DeYoung Consulting, created a survey that gave residents two options to choose from for the 3rd Precinct’s location: one choice was at the old site and the other was four blocks away. The city and its consultant also hosted a series of community listening sessions in the neighborhoods around the 3rd Precinct. According to Wonsley, there was an overwhelming number of community members writing in the ‘comment’ section of the survey that they ‘didn’t want the precinct’ anywhere.
Council Member Wonsley told Unicorn Riot that since the uprising, the 3rd Precinct officers have been working out of the Public Service Building downtown for the past three years and are reporting historically fast response times. “Like, no one has been really, you know, like, oh, ‘I got to have the precinct back.’”
The democratic socialist said the mayor’s move was wholly unnecessary and referred to the survey as “manufactured consent”— the idea that people are manipulated into agreeing with those in power. Wonsley didn’t mince words, summarizing Mayor Frey’s approach as, “Like, ‘we’re going to engage the community but structure it in a way that gives endorsement for what the fuck I want to do anyways.’”
Wonsley said council members got the briefing on the report from DeYoung last week, “that basically said, ‘Yeah, we fucked up.’ … Everybody made it clear they don’t want either choice.”
She said the people called the city’s bluff and won. “Are you not paying attention to what the fuck is happening in Atlanta around Cop City?” she asked, referring to the $90 million proposed site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center that has been met with mass resistance from protestors and has been in the international press for months.
[Click here for all of Unicorn Riot’s coverage of the Stop ‘Cop City’ protests]
“That’s what you want right now in the midst of everything, all the political crises that you’re experiencing and all the inhumane fuckery you’ve done to working class people in the city?” Wonsley asked.
“People really called their bluff, like ‘try us, try us,’ and that scared the fuck out of them.”
Wonsley said Cedric Alexander, Minneapolis’ Community Safety Commissioner who originally wanted the police precinct rebuilt, has now come out publicly saying he thinks all the precincts should be turned into full service community centers. She said she would support that.
The sophomore council member said she will bring her original proposal forward at the meeting on July 18 to convert the precinct into something purposeful for the community, something “Black people have been advocating for to begin with.”
In an interview on Monday with KSTP, Frey said he stands by his goal to reestablish the 3rd Precinct, but his message slightly deviated. He now says the police station needs to be in or very near the 3rd Precinct boundaries and has selected the former Hennepin County building on 3rd Avenue, Century Plaza, to temporarily house 3rd Precinct officers with the possibility of it becoming their permanent home.
Activists still see the planning change as a victory for South Minneapolis, where many have organized to keep the precinct out of their community where the uprising began in 2020. Wonsley said trying to impose the 3rd Precinct on the community and undercut her original plan was all a test by Mayor Frey and his corporate backers to see if they could mobilize white fear again like they did in 2021, when the public safety referendum failed and, via another ballot question, more power shifted to the city’s executive branch.
She said she’s proud of the thousand plus community members that showed up to push back against the mayor and the cops at the listening sessions. Wonsley gushed about how the people recognized and called out that they were being presented with false choices by city leadership. “People showing up, showing out during those engagement sessions, calling out the fuckery. … City officials heard that. The mayor heard that.
“We won the move!”
The City of Minneapolis released the 3rd Precinct Community Engagement Report (pdf) in the leadup to the July 18 council meeting on the engagement sessions, read in full below.CityofMinneapolis3rdPrecinctEngagementFullReport
About the author: Marjaan Sirdar is a South Minneapolis based freelance journalist. He is the host of the People Power Podcast and author of the investigative series, 21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City: How Target Corp., the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County, Created a Domestic Spy Program That Rolled Back Civil Rights On its Black Population, published by Unicorn Riot. You can follow him on Twitter @peoplepowerpod1.
Cover image featuring Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley with the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct in the background by Niko Georgiades for Unicorn Riot.