New Hotline Hopes to Divert Calls from the Police

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Relationships Evolving Possibilities (REP) is an abolitionist group that runs a crisis hotline which responds to non-violent emergencies such as neighbor complaints or welfare checks. 

It was a summer night when Rivianna Zeller and their team got a call from the hotline from the dispatch center in Minneapolis.

The caller said their neighbors across the street had been evicted from their home multiple times, and were now squatting in the house. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s office wouldn’t do anything about it, so could they respond?

Zeller is a volunteer with Relationships Evolving Possibilities, an abolitionist group that runs a crisis hotline which responds to  non-violent emergencies, like neighbor complaints or welfare checks. The hotline operates twice a week, from 7 p.m. until 12 a.m. Volunteers carry first aid kits, snacks, condoms and even cigarettes, which they offer to people when situations are especially tense. 

In this case, Zeller was surprised; the caller didn’t consider themself an abolitionist at all.

“That was really exciting, honestly, to be like: “People are trying other things,” they said.

“I was just really  glad that they called us and that we got to go check on these neighbors … rather than the sheriff or the cops showing up and kicking them out of their house again.”

Though Zeller’s team was not able to talk to the people squatting, they did what they came to do: to offer help with consent and without force. 

“A lot of people call us because they just want someone to listen,” Zeller said.

REP was formed during the summer of 2020 at the height of protests by a group of activists working in mutual aid. Their central tenant is “Black love and liberation.” Roxanne Anderson, a core member of REP, said the goal was to help deescalate conflict in communities as tensions soared. They wanted to give people the space to breathe and have compassionate conversations with each other.

“Everybody was kind of like, in reaction mode. And we wanted to find ways to kind of slow down, get to know your neighbor. Think about how you might want to have a conversation about the fact that your neighbor always parks in a way that blocks your driveway, and instead of erupting in, in a violent episode about your driveway being blocked,” Anderson said.

REP also teaches people how to form pods – groups they can turn to in a crisis instead of the police. Though their focus is on policing alternatives, REP stresses that their hotline is not a 911 replacement – at least not yet. Instead they’re focusing on responding to the calls they say don’t need an armed police response at all.

“Oftentimes, that’s what people need is somebody just to show up, somebody just to be there,” Anderson said. With their connections in the community, volunteers can offer to help someone make a call to another organization, like the Cultural Wellness Center.  “That’s what we know that we can do, with doing as little harm as possible.”

Anderson said REP is slowly and carefully building up its services, like the hotline. After a brief pause, the hotline has entered its second phase, where volunteers also received medic training. The group, which receives financial support from Family Tree Clinic, has made a commitment to operate for 10 years.

“We know that it takes 10 years to root, it takes 10 years for systematic change to really be in place. It takes many years to even see if a program works,” they said. “We’re not trying to say, ‘This is how you be an abolitionist.’ We’re saying, “There are many ways in which abolition can happen. Here are some, what do you all think?’”

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