DOJ to Investigate 'Potentially Systemic Police Issues' in Minneapolis After Chauvin Verdict
The U.S. Department of Justice, reacting to the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, will begin a review of the department's use-of-force tactics while also assessing whether its officers engage in "discriminatory policing."
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the investigation Wednesday.
"Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota," Garland said at a news conference one day after jurors convicted Chauvin, a white officer, of second-degree murder and other charges in the May 2020 death of Floyd, a Black man, who was restrained facedown in handcuffs with Chauvin's knee pressed to his neck for more than nine minutes.
"Yesterday's verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis," Garland said. "Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing."
The review will be independent and parallel to a previously announced federal criminal investigation into Floyd's death, he said. The new investigation will be conducted by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota.
Chauvin, 44, who was fired after the killing, had argued through his defense attorney that his restraint tactics followed police training and protocol.
In a rare twist for the prosecution of a police officer, Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo and others from the department testified against Chauvin, who did not let up even as Floyd repeatedly gasped "I can't breathe."
"Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped," Arradondo testified.
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"There is an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds," the chief said. "But once there was no longer any resistance and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back — that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy."
"I can't breathe" served as a rallying cry around the country last summer as protesters reacted to the viral bystander video of the incident that formed the centerpiece of the case against Chauvin.
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"One of the Civil Rights Division's highest priorities is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from public safety systems that are lawful, responsive, transparent and nondiscriminatory," Pamela S. Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement Wednesday.
She added: "It is essential that police departments across the country use their law enforcement authority, including the authority to use force, in a manner that respects civil rights and the sanctity of human life."
According to The New York Times, investigations like the one announced for Minneapolis often lead to court-approved deals between the DOJ and the local police and governments that can map out reforms in training and other practices.
In a news release, the DOJ said the investigation will assess "all types of force" used by officers, including those responding in situations involving "behavioral health disabilities" and use of force against persons whose actions are protected by the First Amendment.
The review of police policies, training and supervision "will also examine MPD's systems of accountability, including complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline," according to the statement. Community groups and members of the public also will be asked to share their experiences with police.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey welcomed the review "as an opportunity to continue working toward deep change and accountability in the Minneapolis Police Department," he said in a statement, reports KSTP. "This is a defining moment of truth and reconciliation in America. ... We have a generational opportunity to do better by the Black community, and the only way to seize it is through bold action."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.