Shake-up on police oversight commission

Southside members resign, cite issues with leadership

Two southside commissioners, AJ Awed and Fartun Weli, have resigned from the city’s new Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO). 
Awed (Ward 6) and Weli (Ward 8) submitted their resignation within days of the unexpected firing of the Civil Rights Director Alberder Gillespie on Feb. 16, 2024, and the subsequent resignation of the Office of Police Conduct Review Director John Jefferson. 
Both Weli and Awed included the firing of Gillespie and a lack of mayoral leadership as contributing to their decisions to resign. 
Weli wrote that “concerns over the politically-motivated removal of the Civil Righted Director; the risk of diminishing the contributions of BIPOC staff and leaders within the city administration;” and, “inadequate mayoral leadership and support compromising the effectiveness of our framework” were the reasons for her decision.  
Awed noted that he was leaving primarily because he no longer lives in Minneapolis. “My resignation is further motivated by recent unsettling developments within the city’s administration, particularly the dismissal of the Civil Rights Director. This decision strikes me as not only politically motivated, but also influenced by pressures from a small fringe and radical group of advocates for abolishing the police.” 
This, he said, “coupled with what I perceive as a lack of decisive leadership from the mayor’s office and a failure to provide the necessary support and direction to city staff and leadership, has led me to question my ability to serve effectively within the current framework.”
The CCPO was established last year and is made up of 15 members. Thirteen are appointed by the city council, one per ward, and two are appointed by the mayor. The commission makes recommendations regarding police practices, collective bargaining agreements, training, complaint investigations and the performance of the chief of police. The members of the commission also serve on the panels that review police complaint investigations and make disciplinary recommendations. 
The commission is also required to conduct a public hearing, at least annually, on police department policies and procedures. It provides the public with its analysis of proposed changes to all policies and procedures that govern use of force and other matters in police-involved federal or state court orders or settlements.
Phil Strum and Stacey Gurian-Sherman are two southside CCPO commissioners who did not resign.  
“I am actually surprised there haven’t been some headline-generating resignations until now,” said Strum (ward 11). “Personally, I had to fight through the same doubts some have had about remaining on the commission, given the general lack of enthusiasm shown by the city regarding the CCPO.”
He added, “I would say that AJ Awed brought his experience and savvy to the commission process, and helped move things along and knew how to deftly maneuver groups through conflict." 
Awed is the executive director of the Cedar-Riverside Community Council and serves on the Community Mediation and Restorative Services Board of Directors.  He was a candidate for mayor in 2021 and city council in 2020.
Gurian-Sherman (ward 9) agreed with Awed’s assessment that the dismissal of the Civil Rights Director may have been politically motivated, but she disagreed that that it was influenced by people advocating for abolishing the police. “This I sternly reject," she said. “He incorrectly suggests that people who believe in abolishing or defunding the police are disingenuous about their advocacy to finally get police review and oversight right in this city.” 
“Fartun Weli is a true gem as a person, and, as the founder of Isuroon, a pillar of our community,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Isuroon’s website tells us that the word means ‘a woman who cares for herself.’ This guiding principle ties right into their mission to give courage and resources to Somali women and their families so they can overcome obstacles including racism. Again, it should not escape us how racism within MPD was so keenly identified in the US DOJ and MDHR findings. I know this mission also informed and guided Commission Weli’s work on the CCPO.”
“Ms. Weli brought a gravitas of perspective to the commission by her experience with the community, and ably spoke for those she represented,” said Strum. “It is certainly a loss for the commission to lose her insight and community credibility.” 
Weli also serves on the board of the Seward Community Cooperative and describes herself on their website as “an independent thinker and an activist for the common good. I am allergic to racism, so I am an advocate for radical change.”  
Gurian-Sherman thinks that the departure of the fellow commissioners, as well as Gillespie and Jefferson, may affect the work of the CCPO and the public’s trust in it. She wanted a discussion of it to be added to the March 11 agenda, but her request was opposed by the chair and voted down by the commission. 
In a memorandum she sent to the commission and city council prior to the meeting she said, “I believe the departures of Directors Gillespie and Jefferson warrant a deeper look into fundamental changes into the CCPO ordinance.”
One argument for keeping the discussion off the agenda was that it was a personnel matter involving information that could not legally be made public. On the day of Gillespie's firing, however, the city released a seven-page document to the press that includes details used to justify the termination. “There were absolutely no qualms about confidentiality and this being a human resources personnel matter [then],” said Gurian-Sherman. “Yet, at the March 11th CCPO meeting the very first order of business was for CCPO Chair Mary Dedeaux-Swinton to announce, and no doubt in strict coordination with the city, that nothing in this document could be discussed by commissioners.” 
She pointed out, “The CCPO is the first tangible reform instituted after the upheaval from the torture and murder of George Floyd, and the present and pending consent decrees. I agree strongly with Commissioners Weli and Awed that the CCPO is not living up to expectations, promises, and mandates. Mayoral leadership goes beyond ‘inadequate’ to the deeply troubling aspect of actual interference. How else to explain the obstacles with public comment, work groups operating behind closed doors outside the mandates of the Minnesota Open Meeting law, and trainings being so flawed and haphazardly provided to commissioners?”
“I think the CCPO has one advantage past commissions didn’t,” said Strum. “We have the Feds breathing down our necks, and lawyers and judges waiting to give people failing grades for non-compliance with the consent decree process.”
“We are the ‘independent community oversight’ that is so critical to essential police reform. We must make it work as best as possible, even when that includes challenging the obstacles put in our way,” said Gurian-Sherman.
Currently the two seats for southside representatives on the commission are open. Any Minneapolis resident may apply to fill the vacancies. 
On Feb. 20, City Council President Elliott Payne initiated the process for CCPO ordinance revisions that the CCPO has also been working on.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here