The unfolding protests against the Minneapolis Police Department over the death of George Floyd aren’t about the actions of one rogue cop but about a department culture where it seems officers are unable to challenge a peer when that peer’s actions clearly violate police procedure and basic human decency.
As I write this blog, the unrest is getting worse. Police are using tear gas and rubber bullets. Some protestors are throwing things at police. Some were even vandalizing local businesses. I’m sure that conflict will draw most of the media coverage. The focus in this blog will be on the roots of community anger.
Floyd was on the ground in handcuffs while Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck. Floyd cried for help. None of the other three officers on the scene did anything to intervene. By the time Floyd was moved to the ambulance, he was “unresponsive and without a pulse,” the Star Tribune reports. The three officers’ disturbing indifference and silence to Floyd’s pleas speak volumes to many in the community who already mistrust the police.
And while Floyd’s death is the latest flash point between Minneapolis police and the community, these protests are about a whole lot more.
The protests are about:
- People’s personal experience with police on the streets and the disparate treatment people of color. A 2014 ACLU report found “dramatic racial disparities in the Minneapolis Police Department’s arrest rates for a number of low-level non-violent offenses from 2004 – 2012.” A 2018 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said Minneapolis police stopped, searched and arrested American Indian women at much higher rates than other women. These are ongoing issues.
- The litany of disparities faced by black, Indigenous and other communities of color: In health, wealth, income, education, imprisonment, and home ownership.
- The echoes of the Eric Garner, who died in 2014 when a New York City police officer put him in a stranglehold. Garner said: “I can’t breath,” the same words uttered by Floyd. There also is the 2015 death of Jamar Clark, a young black man who was shot and killed during a struggle with two white Minneapolis police officers. Charges were not brought against the officers, but the city paid a $200,000 settlement to Clark’s family, the Star Tribune reported.
- The Fourth Precinct’s 2018 Christmas tree. Officers thought it would be amusing to decorate the tree with “menthol cigarettes, malt liquor and crime tape.” Some north Minneapolis community members found those symbols both racist and insulting to the neighborhood, WCCO-TV reported. Two officers were fired.
- Champaign Hale, who was tazed by a Minneapolis police officer for nearly a minute in 2019, according to Insight News. Hale’s mother had called police to her home over a domestic conflict between her, Hale and Hale’s sister and she wanted her daughters to go to jail. (Details in City Pages articles here and here.) Police escalated the conflict quickly, including the tazing. Police arrested three people who collectively faced 18 criminal charges including assaulting a police officer. Community activists obtained and released the officers’ “disturbing” body camera video of the encounter. County Attorney Mike Freeman dropped all charges against Hale and the others “in the interests of justice.”
The distrust some communities of color have for Minneapolis police union leader Bob Kroll. A 2015 City Pages article chronicled their concerns. “In 2002, Kroll took part in a drug raid of a Native American home. The residents alleged that he was among a dozen officers who beat and humiliated them throughout the course of a three-hour search.” The city paid a $60,000 settlement. There was criticism of Kroll from withing the department. In 2007, five black Minneapolis police officers sued the city and former Chief Timothy Dolan for creating a hostile work environment. Kroll wasn’t a defendant, but the suit “singled him out for allegedly calling then newly elected Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison a terrorist and for wearing a white power patch on his motorcycle jacket.” Kroll denied those charges. Most recently, Kroll spoke at the Trump rally in Minneapolis, wearing his police uniform, which drew criticism.
Go back a ways. Charles Stenvig, a Minneapolis police detective, won the 1969 mayoral election by pledging to “take the handcuffs off the police” and to crack down on “racial militants,” criminals and student protesters, according to “You Can’t Legislate the Heart”: Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig and the Politics of Law and Order, published in American Studies. In 1993, Minneapolis police officers encountered two intoxicated Native Americans, Charles Lone Eagle and John Bone, who were sleeping in front of an apartment building. The officers handcuffed the men, dragged them to their squad car, threw them in the trunk, injuring Lone Eagle’s leg, and drove them to the hospital, according to the book Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. The two men eventually each received a $100,000 settlement from the city for the mistreatment.
There are other incidents. But you can look from the Charlie Stenvig era to the death of George Floyd, and it doesn’t appear there was ever a Golden Era of community relations between the Minneapolis police department and most communities of color, particularly black and Indigenous communities. That’s tragic.
Black Visions Collective is pushing Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council “to move our money out of a murderous police department and into the resources that really keep our people safe.”
Ideas for solutions? Comments welcome.
[Update: For more, see How Amy Cooper and George Floyd represent two versions of racism that black Americans face every day in the Washington Post, and The death of George Floyd, and the frustration that nothing ever changes and George Floyd and the city that killed him in the Star Tribune.]