The U.S. state of Minnesota on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department in hopes of forcing widespread changes following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for minutes, even after he stopped moving.
Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced the filing of the formal complaint at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. The governor and Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said they hope to reach agreement with the city to identify short-term ways to address the police department’s history of racial discrimination, and use the investigation to find long-term solutions for systemic change.
Lucero said their goal is to negotiate a consent decree with the city that courts could enforce with injunctions and financial penalties. There are precedents, she said, including a consent decree approved in Chicago last year after the U.S. Justice Department found a long history of racial bias and excessive use of force by police.
Widely seen bystander video showing Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved were fired but have not been charged.
“We know that deeply seated issues exist,” the governor said. “I know it because we saw the casual nature of the erasing of George Floyd’s life and humanity. We also saw the reaction of the community. They expected nothing to happen, because nothing happened so many times before.”
My administration will use every tool at our disposal to deconstruct generations of systemic racism in Minnesota. This effort is one of many steps to come in our effort to restore trust with communities that have been unseen and unheard for far too long.
Walz said the investigation into the police department’s policies, procedures and practices over the past 10 years will determine if the force has engaged in systemic discrimination toward people of colour, and work out how to stop it. Lucero will lead the investigation.
All 12 members of Minneapolis City Council endorsed a statement read by council president Lisa Bender at a news conference later Tuesday in support of the investigation.
“We urge the state to use its full weight to hold the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for any and all abuses of power and harms to our community, and stand ready to aid in this process as full partners,” the council said.
Mayor Jacob Frey said the state’s intervention will help break what he called a stalemate on reform.
“For years in Minneapolis, police chiefs and elected officials committed to change have been thwarted by police union protections and laws that severely limit accountability among police departments,” Frey said in a statement. “I welcome today’s announcement because breaking through those persistent barriers, shifting the culture of policing and addressing systemic racism will require all of us working hand in hand.”
A police department spokesperson and the president of the police officers’ union didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The FBI is also investigating whether police wilfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights.
WATCH | George Floyd’s brother calls for peace, justice as protests continue:
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights enforces the state’s Human Rights Act, particularly as it applies to discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and public services. Mediation is one of its first-choice tools, but the cases it files can lead to fuller investigations and sometimes end up in court.
The Minneapolis Police Department has faced decades of allegations of brutality and other discrimination against black Americans and other minorities, even within the department itself. Critics say its culture resists change, despite the elevation of Medaria Arradondo as its first black police chief in 2017.
Arradondo himself was among five black officers who sued the police department in 2007 over alleged discrimination in promotions, pay and discipline.They said in their lawsuit that the department had a history of tolerating racism and discrimination. The city eventually settled the lawsuit for $740,000 US.
Earlier Tuesday, an attorney for Floyd’s family again decried the official autopsy that found his death was caused by cardiac arrest as police restrained him and compressed his neck.
The medical examiner also listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use, but not as the cause of death.
A separate autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family concluded that he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
WATCH | State, private autopsies differ on how George Floyd died:
“The cause of death was that he was starving for air. It was lack of oxygen. And so everything else is a red herring to try to throw us off,” family attorney Ben Crump said Tuesday.
He said the Hennepin County medical examiner went to great lengths to try to convince the public that what was shown on video didn’t cause Floyd to die.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told ABC’s Good Morning America that prosecutors are working as fast as they can to determine whether more charges will be filed.
Protests across U.S.
One day after a crackdown on peaceful protesters near the White House, thousands of demonstrators massed a block away from the presidential mansion, facing law enforcement personnel standing across a black chain-link fence. The fence was put up overnight to block access to Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House.
“Last night pushed me way over the edge,” said Jessica DeMaio, 40, of Washington, who attended a protest Tuesday for the first time. “Being here is better than being at home feeling helpless.”
The crowd remained in place after the city’s 7 p.m. curfew passed, defying warnings that the response from law enforcement could be even more forceful. At one point, the crowd booed when a protester climbed a light post and took down a street sign. A chant went up: “Peaceful protest!”
Protests ranged across the U.S., including New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Paul, Minn., Columbia, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., where more than 1,000 people gathered in the afternoon to decry the killings of black people.
In New York, midtown Manhattan was pocked with battered storefronts after Monday’s protests. Macy’s flagship store was among those hit when crowds smashed windows and looted stores as they swept through the area. A police sergeant was hospitalized after being hit by a car in the Bronx, where people walked Tuesday between ransacked buildings and a burned-out car on the Grand Concourse, a commercial thoroughfare.
Police made nearly 700 arrests and Mayor Bill de Blasio extended an 8 p.m. curfew all week.
WATCH | Curfew imposed in New York City:
More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the violence. New York is not among them, and De Blasio has said he does not want the Guard. On Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called what happened in the city “a disgrace.”
“The NYPD and the mayor did not do their job last night,” Cuomo said at a briefing in Albany.
He said the mayor underestimated the problem, and the nation’s largest police force was not deployed in sufficient numbers, though the city had said it doubled the usual police presence.
Tuesday marked the eighth straight night of the protests, which began in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, and quickly spread across the country.
About a dozen other deaths have been reported around the country over the past week. And nearly 8,000 people nationwide have been arrested for offences such as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, governors and mayors, Republicans and Democrats alike, rejected Trump’s threat to send in the military, with some saying troops would be unnecessary and others questioning whether the government has such authority and warning that such a step would be dangerous.
Officers, police chief disciplined
There also continue to be repercussions for actions in previous days.
Six Atlanta police officers were charged Tuesday after a dramatic video showed authorities pulling two young people from a car during protests, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced the charges during a news conference.
“I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else,” said Messiah Young, who was dragged from the vehicle along with his girlfriend, Taniyah Pilgrim, while they were caught in traffic.
The May 30 incident first gained attention from video online and on local news. Throughout, the couple can be heard screaming and asking officers what is happening.
Meanwhile, in Louisville, Ky., the police chief was fired Monday after beloved restaurant owner David McAtee was fatally shot by police and National Guard members enforcing a curfew the previous night.
The police chief was already on the hot seat after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, during a March raid in her home.
But the acting police chief said Tuesday that video appears to show McAtee firing his gun as officers approached his business.
The video was obtained from security cameras at his restaurant and an adjoining business, acting police Chief Robert Schroeder said.
“This video appears to show Mr. McAtee firing a gun outside of his business door as officers, who are using pepper balls to clear the Dino’s [Food Mart] lot, were approaching his business,” Schroeder said.
“This video does not provide all the answers. But we are releasing it to provide transparency. It does not answer every question, including why did he fire and where were police at the time he fired?”