Minneapolis activists vow to maintain pressure for police reform
Pledge follows Justice Department announcement that it will investigate city police for ‘systemic failures’ after George Floyd verdict.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, US – Community leaders in Minneapolis called for more accountability for police brutality and more direct action from demonstrators on Wednesday after the United States Justice Department (DOJ) announced an investigation into the city’s police department a day after a former officer was found guilty of killing George Floyd, a Black man.
On boarded-up businesses across the city, images posted of Floyd, as well as Daunte Wright and Philando Castile, Black men also killed by police, are a reminder of the scale of the challenge. Wright was shot earlier this month, while Castile was killed in 2017.
“We need a real investigation, not any consultations or public relations type of thing,” Michelle Gross, the head of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) told Al Jazeera.
Gross drove to the post office in late March to send the letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland that resulted in the investigation.
“They always want to talk about building trust in law enforcement. Trust is not the goal. Accountability is.”
People in the streets in Minneapolis celebrated following the conviction of Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and the mood in the midwestern US town has lifted.
A former Minneapolis police officer, Chauvin was convicted on three counts – second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter – in Floyd’s killing last May. The entire incident was filmed by a teenage bystander and triggered enormous protests against racism in the US and around the world.
Gross wants to see further convictions for police abuses, saying that roughly 465 cases since 2000 where an officer was involved in a killing need to be reopened.
Gross points to statistics on the office of police conduct review, which Minneapolis uses to track police complaints. Since it was set up eight years ago, it has received 3,434 complaints.
“They have disciplined 20 of them. That is a 0.58 percent discipline rate,” she said in a hotel room across from the Hennepin County Government Center.
The hotel room serves as a temporary headquarters for CUAPB, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIR-MN) and other organisations working for law enforcement reform.
After news of the investigation broke, representatives were having hurried conversations about press releases and statements.
Johnathon McClellan, the president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, says he is concerned the investigation is just for show.
“I think the amount of work that has gone into getting the message out and seeking the help that we need, tells it all”, he told Al Jazeera.
“It wasn’t proactively taken by the administration as soon as the [President Joe Biden] got into office.”
McClellan worries the Justice Department does not want to address the “core” of the Minneapolis Police Department, which he claims is “rotten”.
The Twin Cities Area, which includes Saint Paul, Brooklyn Center and other cities, has multiple police departments that brutalise communities of colour, he alleged.
Without addressing the “core” of policing in the area, people of colour will continue to experience “that level of fear … that they saw in Daunte Wright’s case.”
Wright, who was 20, was killed on April 11 after he was pulled over by white officer Kim Potter in Brooklyn Center.
The city’s police chief said the shooting was an “accidental discharge” and Potter drew her gun rather than a taser during the frantic traffic stop.
Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, but organisers say the charge should be upgraded to murder.
The Justice Department probe is called a “pattern or practice” investigation, which is supposed to look beyond individual incidents to assess systemic failures and will allow the DOJ to “determine whether a police department has a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” Garland said as he announced the investigation.
It will also look at whether the city’s police have a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests, and engages in discriminatory conduct. There will also be a comprehensive review of its policies, including training, use-of-force investigations and accountability mechanisms.
The review could result in major changes but McClellan says that will only happen if local groups keep up the pressure.
Gross, who has worked for police accountability for decades, agrees.
“It’s on us to make sure this isn’t a public relations opportunity,” she said.