Activist Kandace Montgomery Is Fighting To Change Policing in Minneapolis

Supermajority Education Fund

August 27, 2020

Activist Kandace Montgomery has seen firsthand just how much public sentiment around policing has evolved in Minneapolis in recent years. When she first moved to Minnesota in 2013, activists were “calling for the start of incremental changes to policing or police reforms,” and now “the conversation has really changed to be one that is calling for a larger vision of change and transformation,” Montgomery told Supermajority News. “It’s now fundamentally calling for the ending of policing and figuring out the right transition plan to a community-led safety practice.”

As the director of the Black Visions Collective — a Minneapolis-based organization that advocates for a community-centered approach to justice and policing — Montgomery has had many conversations with both city residents and policymakers and elected officials about how to make the city safer for all. In 2018, she and other members of the Black Visions Collective campaigned for a reduction in the police budget, advocating instead for those funds to go to local community organizations that were focused on issues like health, substance abuse, and domestic violence. While those efforts were unsuccessful — the city’s mayor instead raised the Minneapolis Police Department’s budget by $8 million — Montgomery didn’t give up. Along with other local organizations, the Black Visions Collective renewed their push to disband the city’s police department after the death of George Floyd in police custody in May. 

In June, it seemed their efforts paid off: the Minneapolis City Council advanced a proposed ballot measure that called for the creation of a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the Minneapolis Charter Commission.

Supermajority News had the chance to talk to Montgomery about her work, the future of policing in Minneapolis, and her advice for aspiring activists.

How did you first become interested in organizing and community activism?

I began organizing in college after someone came and knocked on my door and told me about a community organizing class, and I took it. I really was transformed in that moment, and felt that organizing really offered a solution to some experiences involving oppression that I experienced growing up. 

How do racial disparities in Minnesota play out in the lives of the Black Americans who live there?

If you move to Minnesota, what you’ll find is that unlike a lot of other places, we have some of the best of the best. We have this incredible education system, comparatively. Our unemployment rate is pretty low, and wages are above what they are in other states. But if you look at those factors across racial lines and compare white people and communities of color, it is very clear that those sorts of benefits are almost exclusively for white people. Communities of color struggle to get access to these best of the best types of things.

It seems like many people outside of advocacy circles can’t imagine what a world without the police would look like. What would you tell them?

What is often lost in the conversation is that when we talk about policing, we are really calling for an investment in our community in ways that have never happened before. Currently in Minneapolis, we spend $191 million a year on policing, with the purpose and goal of keeping us safe. But obviously and fundamentally, the police department is not doing its job, because when they are called to keep us safe, folks end up being murdered or violated or they are not just ending crime in general, because crime continues to happen.

But what if we invested that $191 million dollars in our communities in housing, in education, in some of these other factors we know are true for less quote-unquote crime-ridden, more safe communities? So I think that would be one of the more fundamental shifts. Community members would actually have access to their basic needs to be able to try and keep themselves safe. Folks would not have to sleep outside. They would not have to commit crimes because they have enough money to pay for food and to pay their other bills. 

[This approach to public safety] would be a much more community-centered approach. This approach would not rely on escalation, but instead would rely on community members who are grounded in the community and have the cultural and professional competency to respond to crisis. One example of this would be if we actually had people who know how to respond to a mental health crisis and know how to identify it, respond to those calls [instead of police], and know how to deescalate those situations. Or what if folks who have experience working in domestic violence [could] be the first responders on calls like that? So it’s really asking us to redefine what community safety looks like to all of our communities.

Do you have any advice for younger people looking to get involved in these issues?

I would say to find a local organization that aligns with your values and ask how you can get involved. If that doesn’t exist in your neighborhood, I would encourage people to start their own organizations. But I think the most important thing as we address these issues is that we need to address them collectively and not just as lone rangers and not just on Twitter or Facebook. We need to figure out ways that we can have one-on-one type conversations with everyday community members about these issues and work on bringing them into the fold.

How does voting come into this conversation about public safety?

We should be asking our candidates about their transformative vision for public safety. It should not rely on reforms that continue to fail us. Oftentimes, that is where we really find if these people are interested in what benefits their community or if they are interested in benefit[ing] of their own political career? So they should be thinking of those kinds of things in terms that are not just around public safety and policing, but also while thinking about other investments in the community.