The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) recently held a listening session with leaders in the Black community and developed a survey to get feedback about what a Black-Centered Design (BCD) approach to policing could look like, as well as the tools and resources needed to prevent deadly interactions between African Americans and law enforcement in the Twin Cities and across the state. BCD was developed in our Collective Impact Initiative and is a new approach to bringing positive change to the Black community by empowering African Americans to lead and develop solutions to the problems that most affect their lives.

Surveys were completed by Fatima M, Hilary Thomas, Shanaya Dungey, Vachel Hudson, Erin Roquemore, JaNaé Bates, Joshua Crosson, Tatiana Freeman and Ashley Oolman, and consisted of the following questions: (1) When you hear “defund police” what does that mean to you? (2) What are the systems at play which must be addressed in the context of this problem? (3) What tools/strategies need to be developed for safer policing? (4) Who are the key influencers & experts in solving this problem? This effort was a first step in exercising and leveraging our capacity as an organization to quickly harvest insight and perspectives from our network of over 2000 community members.

Insights from the Listening Session & Survey Responses

The conversation in the Listening Session centered on the challenge of addressing police brutality, over-policing, and the epidemic of deadly encounters between police officers in Minnesota’s seven-county metro area and around the country.

Our Associate Director Ernest Comer III began the session by asking participants a series of questions. Here are their responses:

When you hear de-funding the police what does that mean to you?

Participants mentioned that this could mean reassessing the role, value and necessity of the police department and making decisions about how to best leverage resources that would be re-purposed. Some participants expressed concerns regarding what defunding would mean for property value and personal safety.

There is also a need for a FAQ regarding how safety, security, and law enforcement are handled when there is no police department or when funding for policing is reallocated.

Other concerns/comments included: (1) Where do we need to have policing? and (2) We are in a season of all police being viewed as the same due to the state of systematic oppression that is upheld by the institution of policing.

What are the systems at play which must be addressed in the context of this problem?

Participants indicated that there is a need for the African American community’s organizations to take a firm position; if community organizations have a position of power and a voice then those organizations need to take a stand on behalf of the people in the community being served. In addition, however, when individuals take a stand in this context, their perspective can be singled out as individualistic and not applicable to the community.

Participants emphasized the role of technology in social justice (what would have happened if there was no one there to record what happened to George Floyd?) and expressed that the judicial system, educational system [classroom educators], healthcare, prison industrial complex  are systems that uphold one another.

Participants emphasized that there is a lot of community dissent regarding the best path forward on this particular problem and we need to identify ways to educate without alienating people throughout the African American community; this is a moment that shifts the course for the next chapter in the fight for social justice and ending police brutality in the Black community. It was also mentioned that the conversation around safer policing began around prison reform.

What tools/strategies need to be developed for safer policing?

Participants expressed concerns about the issue of rogue citizens who have murdered African Americans in the community in the name of upholding the law, and some were worried that dismantling or defunding police departments could exacerbate this problem. It was also mentioned that the police operate in too many spaces that are fundamentally irrelevant to their role in community and that we need to review the policies regarding excessive force; they should more specific and refined.

In addition, standards of accountability for policing, a well as licensing standards for becoming a police officer, are too low and accessible. There needs to be more clarity about how the Minneapolis police chief will manage and maneuver relationships with the police union as well. Participants talked about ‘warrior style’ policing and that it should be addressed; it is a significant challenge because even if police officer training is changed to focus on de-escalation, there is a large segment of the department that has an established a way of functioning in their role that will be difficult to unlearn.

Who are the key influencers & experts in solving this problem?

Participants identified prison reform experts, formerly incarcerated people, people engaged in community safety work, and people working in prison and law enforcement industries as resources to help mitigate this issue. However, there is still a lot of conflict in the Black community about the best way to go forward and it is important to be intentional about identifying people and organizations that have been engaged in this work who have morally sound intentions (examples included: Erin Maye Quade, Jason Sole, Tony Williams, Ron Harris, Wintana Melekin, Elizer Darris, Leslie Redmond, Nekima Levy Pounds, and others).

For more information about this listening session and to receive the full survey results on a Black-centered Design response to policing, please reach out to our Associate Director Ernest Comer III at