When the Minneapolis City Council vowed to disband its police department, everyone wondered how they'd fill the void -- well, a group called the Minnesota Freedom Riders might play a huge part.
During the immediate unrest after George Floyd was killed, citizen patrols organized across the city as trust in the police force plummeted. This included the Freedom Riders, who describe themselves as a group of individuals who banded together for a common cause -- protecting their community.
A spokesperson for the group of 45 volunteers tells TMZ ... they rotate patrolling northern Minneapolis. The men, mostly African-American, are licensed to openly carry handguns and/or assault rifles, and have regular weekly meetings to discuss their operation. We're told each patrolman's hours vary on the needs of their community.
And, so far ... there's a lot of positive info to report about the Freedom Riders' initiative.
For starters ... the Minneapolis PD has been receptive to it. We're told the Riders communicate with cops on a daily basis to share intel on community dealings and advise on what the police should handle.
On the flip side ... we're told the PD asks the group to assist on more neighborly matters requiring more trust -- like speaking with community members concerned about white supremacy groups -- along with handling "lesser crimes."
As the group puts it ... the Freedom Riders are NOT looking to replace the police -- they want to continue working as partners.
The group has also proven successful in thwarting violence in the recent weeks of unrest. During the riots, the Riders were able to prevent looting and structure fires in all of northern Minneapolis. They say their presence has also resulted in a reduction in street and gun violence.
Along with having police support, the Riders also have the support of the Minneapolis NAACP ... whose President Leslie Redmond tells us, "I'm working in an individual capacity to help start this separate entity."
She's launched a GoFundMe -- which has raised $20k so far -- to support the group's efforts in the community. We're told the money goes toward equipment, training, insurance, furthering education for the patrolmen and events for kids in the community.
As you may know, Minneapolis public schools and the University of Minnesota have cut ties with the Minneapolis PD, so there's a major void that needs to be filled with the "community-based safety" suggested by the City Council.
The Freedom Riders seem willing to answer the call.