Minneapolis police force to face sweeping federal investigation
The US Justice Department yesterday announced a sweeping investigation into policing in Minneapolis less than a day after a white former officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in the city.
The investigation will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether Minneapolis police engage in discriminatory practices, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said in Washington as Joe Biden called for action on policing in Floyd’s memory and described the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin as a “step forward”.
“The justice department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis police department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” Garland said.
The federal government will also examine the handling of misconduct allegations against police and law enforcement’s treatment of people with behavioural health issues – and justice officials will also assess the department’s systems of accountability, the attorney general added.
Garland’s announcement came less than a day after Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges related to murder and manslaughter in the killing of Floyd in the Minnesota city last May.
When bystander video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he was pinned to the street, crying out that he could not breathe, reached the internet it set off a wave of protests in Minneapolis, across the US and internationally.
The reckoning on police brutality and racial injustice was part of a huge resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and turned into the biggest civil rights uprising in the US since the 1960s.
Protests went on not just through the summer but right up until the trial of Chauvin opened on 29 March in a heavily fortified court house in downtown Minneapolis. After three weeks of the trial, the jury deliberated for just 10 hours before coming back with unanimous verdicts.
Chauvin will be sentenced in two months and was immediately taken into custody, leaving the courtroom in handcuffs. The most serious charge he was convicted of carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.
Biden and the vice-president, Kamala Harris, addressed the nation from the White House in the hours after, saying the verdict was just one step towards fairer policing in America.
Harris said: “A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice … here is the truth about racial injustice, it’s not just a black American problem or a people of colour problem, it’s a problem for every American.”
Biden spoke of systemic racism as a stain on the nation. “Protests unified people of every race and generation in peace and with purpose to say enough,” he said. “Enough. Enough of the senseless killings … The guilty verdict does not bring back George [Floyd]. George’s legacy will not be just about his death but about what we must do in his memory.” He called for progress on a piece of legislation on police reforms, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act 2020, which is stuck in the US Senate without agreement on the way forward.
Many lawmakers and public figures celebrated the verdict while calling for more to be done, echoing years-long demands by Black Lives Matter activists for systemic change.
Cori Bush, the Black Lives Matter activist who was elected last year to represent a Missouri district in the US House of Representatives, said the verdict “is accountability, but it’s not yet justice”.
Rep Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, who with Harris, when she was a senator, introduced the George Floyd Act, said she hoped the verdict would re-energise efforts to bring it into law. It passed the House of Representatives this year with no Republican support – and it faces a major hurdle in the Senate, where Republicans are expected to block it with a filibuster.
“We need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and put it on President Biden’s desk because that will be the first step to transforming policing,” she said, speaking with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill.
Bass said she had been in informal talks with Republican lawmakers to develop a bipartisan compromise and hoped a deal could be reached “by the time we hit the anniversary of George Floyd’s death” on 25 May.
The Justice Department was already investigating whether Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights. The three other officers are due to stand trial together in August, charged with aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Garland said the verdict had not addressed “potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.” He said a public report would be issued if the government found a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, and the Biden administration could also bring a lawsuit against the police department.
The police department is also being investigated by the Minnesota department of human rights, which is looking into the department’s policies and practices over the last decade to see if it engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.