History of the Minneapolis Police Department, Part I

Abolish the Police Pt. 1
What is the MPD and why it can’t be made into something for us . . .
By a Minneapolis union member and anti-racist activist

(This is part of a series of posts dealing with the demand to abolish the police. Comments, questions, and criticisms are always welcome.)

We are taught in school and on TV that the police are problem-solvers and heroes, willing and able to take on the conflicts, crimes, and catastrophes that regular people can’t handle. A lot of us hang on to those ideas even when our lived experience is something entirely different. But for many others the reality of the police and their role in society is crystal clear. Still can we do without them? I’m gonna argue here that we can and have to, to be free. This first series of posts will deal with demystifying what exactly the MPD is. I leaned heavily on the work of MPD150 and some other academic research for the history.

The history of the MPD and policing
The Minneapolis Police formed soon after the founding of the city in 1867 on occupied Dakota land, and was modeled after other police forces across the United States. You can be forgiven if you thought that police forces have always existed, but really they are quite recent. The model for modern policing is the Metropolitan Police Department founded in London

The Royal Irish Constabulary. Built to suppress one of the world’s first colonies – Ireland – they were the original model for police.

England in 1829 – less than 200 years ago. “The London police force was explicitly modeled on the Royal Irish Constabulary, a ‘peacekeeping’ force designed to maintain British rule and control rebellious communities in occupied Ireland.” (MPD 150) . So right from the get-go “policing” was designed as a kind of “peacekeeping” that protected an oppressive and exploitive social order -this was not incidental or coincidental but central to its purpose.

Besides the London model, another even more sinister force was a direct influence on the creation of American police: Slave Patrols. Millions of African workers and farmers were held against their will, seperated from their families, deprived of any wages or property, forced to live under brutal regimes that included torture, rape and lynchings across the American South (but also for some time in the North). Such a system would have to expect the African workers to attempt to resist and escape. The Slave Patrols were the mechanism for preventing escape or chasing down African workers who did manage to flee. The Slave Patrols were organized like local militias and gradually given more and more power to stop, detain, confiscate property from, and brutalize any African workers for any reason. Many of these local militias eventually evolved into police departments – the Charleston, South Carolina PD being one example.

In the South, the police originated from the slave patrols.

In the United States social control has been built firmly on white supremacist lines, policing has always played an important role in enforcing the “color line”.

Minneapolis is a relatively young American city, built on occupied Native land, so by the time the local police force was formed this model of organized social control was firmly in place in this country.

Labor struggles

Police at work during the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike

During periods of sharp class conflict in Minneapolis like the 1917 streetcar workers strike or the epic 1934 Teamsters strike, the police actually deputized men sent by the bosses organization, the Citizens Alliance, to increase the size of their force taking on the organized workers. On July 20th 1934 the MPD opened fire on striking Teamsters and their supporters shooting 67 workers, killing two of them.

During the so-called War on Drugs in the 80s and 90s, the MPD militarized and carried out tens of thousands of drug arrests, disproportionally people of color. In one drug raid – the MPD hit the wrong house, a flash-bang grenade ignited a fire and killed an elderly Black couple sleeping in a back bedroom. This repression on the street lead directly to the Mass Incarceration of young Black men in particular.

The MPD is regularly deployed against protest movements in the city, often making violent arrests of organizers and participants. 

Oaklandsocialist notes: Also see our article “Police – past present and future

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