The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked outrage across the country that resulted in a demand for police reform in Minnesota.
Police Reform in Minneapolis
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. Since the release of videos showing Floyd’s arrest and disturbing police tactics, the Minneapolis Police Department has faced constant accusations of police brutality and biased, unethical treatment of black people arrested in Minnesota. People across the country, as well as Minnesota residents and politicians, are demanding police reforms that address racism within the Minneapolis Police Department.
George Floyd’s death sparked national protests against police brutality and racist police tactics used by law enforcement. In Minneapolis and other cities around the country, thousands of people were arrested for participating in violent and non-violent protests. Since May, criminal defense attorneys in Minneapolis have witnessed a significant rise in the arrests of peaceful protesters and violent offenders whose actions are directly linked to the death of George Floyd.
The wrongful death of George Floyd put a national spotlight on Minnesota police reform. Political leaders in Minnesota promised to make sweeping changes to police reform within the state. However, the Minnesota Legislature failed to reach a compromise on law enforcement measures due to political barriers. The Minnesota Legislature is the only one in the country where Democrats control one chamber and Republicans control the other. While Democrats called for far-reaching police reforms such as cutting police budgets, Republicans supported more common-sense reforms such as bans on chokeholds and the use of unreasonable force.
When the Minnesota Legislature failed to pass a bill on police reform, Governor Tim Walz called the failure an embarrassment for the state. He expressed concern for the thousands of protesters on the streets in Minneapolis and other cities who might be endangered by the Legislature’s failure to reach a compromise on Minnesota police reforms.
Although the Minnesota Legislature failed to reach a decision on police reform measures, the Minneapolis City Council added an amendment to the city charter that addresses the abolition of the police department on the November ballot. Recently, members of the city’s charter commission voted 10 to 5 to take an additional 90 days to study the matter, meaning it will not be put to city voters in November.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the City Council’s plan would end the requirement to maintain a police department with a minimum force based on the city’s population. Instead, Minneapolis would be required to establish a Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention that would prioritize a holistic, public health-oriented approach, which may or may not include a division with police officers.
Racism and Police Brutality in the Twin Cities
The Twin Cities have a long history of racial policing and police brutality. According to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, and former US congressman, the Minneapolis Police Department has been confronted with problems of racism and police brutality for decades. As the lead prosecutor in the George Floyd murder case against Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers, Keith Ellison acknowledges a history of police coverups and a vital need for police reforms within the Minneapolis Police Department.
For years prior to George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Police Department failed to adopt police reforms regarding chokeholds, a controversial practice that’s banned in other states, but often seen by criminal defense attorneys Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Police Department ignored recommendations from federal officials to weed out bad cops, even though they had numerous reports of unacceptable police tactics. At least two of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death had previous complaints of police brutality filed against them in the past. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the department, had at least a dozen complaints from the public, none of which led to discipline according to city records.
The Marshall Project analyzed police reform efforts in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota to understand why change has been so slow across the predominantly white state. In addition to a 2015 U.S. Justice Department report on policing in Minneapolis, court documents, reports from police accountability experts, and stalled state legislation all show a need for police reform within the Minneapolis Police Department. All reports point to a clear pattern of failure to stop the use of lethal force with chokeholds and discipline or remove bad police officers from the force.
Minnesota elected officials have proposed more than a dozen police reform bills since 2015 but failed to pass or advance any of them. Several of the failed bills would have overhauled statewide standards for the use of lethal force and set up independent investigations for fatal incidents involving police officers. Other bills would have funded training on racial bias and de-escalation for officers in the state’s larger police departments.