MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Small business owners and workers in Minneapolis are calling for city leaders to create mobile mental health emergency response teams for them to call as an alternative to armed police officers.
More than 30 business owners, managers and employees have signed an open letter to Mayor Jacob Frey, the city council and the Hennepin County Commissioners, urging them to form teams of mental health emergency responders that would be dispatched through 911 and available at all times.
“Many small business owners and staff are put in the unfortunate position of being forced to call the police for interactions that do not truly require an armed response, simply because no other option currently exists,” the letter says. “Our staff are not and cannot be equipped to fully resolve instances of patrons who are under the influence of serious substances, are experiencing a mental health crisis, or are significantly disrupting service and refuse to leave. However, individuals involved in these situations need to be connected to services, not criminalized, and businesses need experts who can resolve disruptions quickly and safely.”
The letter says that the Minneapolis Police Department’s current co-responder model, in which a mental health professional is dispatched alongside an officer, is a step in the right direction, but argues that an armed officer is not necessary and does not help their businesses in most circumstances.
Those who have signed the letter include Evan Sallee, the CEO and co-founder of Fair State Brewing, Daniel Paul Wellendorf, co-owner of Modist Brewing, Matt Schwandt, president of Bauhaus Brew Labs, and Tracy Singleton, the owner of Birchwood Cafe.
On Fair State’s Instagram page, the co-op brewery wrote: “We are proud to be a part of a coalition of small business owners and employees calling for bold leadership from the City Council, Mayor, and Hennepin County Commissioners on this issue. Small businesses can’t wait.”
The call for these unarmed response teams comes in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd, a Black man, died on Memorial Day after being arrested in south Minneapolis for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Cell phone video of the arrest showed one of the responding officers, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as the man pleaded for help and eventually fell unconscious.
The video sparked protests across the country and nights of unrest in the Twin Cities. In the aftermath came a push to transform the city’s police department, with a majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledging to defund the department and replace it with a different public safety apparatus. The push to defund the police has since floundered. Meanwhile, the city has experienced a surge in violent crime.
Chauvin, who was fired from the police force, is facing charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Three other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Currently, all of the ex-officers are slated to be tried together in Hennepin County next year.