Identity-Based Policy Making

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Defunding the Police in Minneapolis

By Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

"Among those politicians who thought it imperative to dismantle white supremacy quickly, a natural question was how to do it. One approach, explored by the Minneapolis city council, was to allow racial-justice advocates a more direct role in defining public policy. Within two weeks of Floyd’s killing, following a week of intense lobbying by activists, a majority of the city-council members appeared at a protest and announced that they intended to “end policing as we know it.” I reported on that initiative, and found that the city councillors had well-grounded criticisms of the old police system but only a vague sense of what would replace it. I kept asking whose idea it had been to pursue defunding. Cam Gordon, a city councillor, named the activist groups: “It was Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective’s baby.” By September, the proposal, which would have first sought ballot approval to amend the city charter’s definition of policing, was functionally dead, after the charter commission voted against approving the necessary ballot initiative. Several of the councillors acknowledged then that they had never really agreed on what it would mean to defund the police, and the initiative lost steam when it encountered what a Times report described as “public opposition.” (

Renaming the Schools in San Francisco

By Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

"Another approach, in San Francisco, was to aim at symbolic targets, in this case the names of schools. As in many other places, the education board had formed a committee to review school names in 2018, after the previous year’s white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and, like the city council in Minneapolis, the committee proceeded deliberately. While schools in San Francisco were closed for the pandemic, the board of education voted, 6–1, to rename forty-four schools in order to “dismantle symbols of racism and white supremacy culture,” including schools named after Abraham Lincoln (for his role in the killing and persecution of Native Americans), James Russell Lowell (an abolitionist who the Committee alleged did not want Black people to be allowed to vote), and the nineteenth-century tycoon James Lick (whose estate funded an offensive statue). By then, the school board had a new president, Gabriela López, a thirty-year-old activist schoolteacher who had moved to San Francisco after receiving her master’s, and it was never clear how much support this broad renaming enjoyed from San Franciscans. The renaming project was botched, probably in part because the committee charged with renaming the schools did not consult any historians. “What would be the point?” the chair of the renaming committee and first-grade teacher named Jeremiah Jeffries wondered, insisting that the history of oppression was plain to see. In pursuit of dramatic change, the committee made basic errors: assuming, for example, that Paul Revere’s Penobscot Expedition had been a colonizing raid against indigenous communities in Maine, when it was actually an effort to capture a British fort. A month after the school board’s plan was announced, it was shelved indefinitely." (