Announcing a federal probe into policing in Minneapolis, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is not the equivalent of addressing systemic racism and violence by officers—echoing the recent calls of racial justice advocates and progressive lawmakers including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Less than 24 hours after Chauvin was found guilty, Garland announced to the press that officials in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division have opened a probe into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to determine whether the agency has a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”
“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland told reporters. “Public safety requires public trust.”
The attorney general said that DOJ officials have already begun contacting community members and organizations to interview them about their interactions with the MPD, and will also speak with officers at the department about the training they receive.
The probe will focus on whether the agency uses excessive force—including at protests like the racial justice demonstrations which erupted last year following Floyd’s murder—and whether it engages in discriminatory conduct, and treats residents with behavioral health disabilities unlawfully.
“The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.”
—Attorney General Merrick Garland
The investigation could result in a civil lawsuit, with the Justice Department calling on a federal court to order the MPD to change its practices.
The DOJ intends to “look beyond individual incidents to address systemic failures,” Garland said, and officials will review the MPD’s policies, training, and use-of-force investigations. Prior to Floyd’s violent arrest last May, during which Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the MPD has long been accused of excessive use of force, particularly against Black residents.
A New York Times analysis last year found that the department used force against Black people at seven times the rate of white people. The killings of Jamar Clark in 2015 and Thurman Blevins in 2018 by Minneapolis officers made national news, as did the fatal shooting of a white woman named Justine Damond after she called 911.
Family members of Black residents killed in the Minneapolis area recently—including the family of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by an officer in Brooklyn Center on April 11—have previously called for a federal investigation into policing.
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“I don’t want to feel helpless. I need my son to have justice along with everybody else’s son, daughters, people who are murdered by the police,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said last week.
Garland’s announcement gave hope to racial justice advocates who have expressed outrage in recent days at the prevalence of police killings of civilians including Wright; 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago; and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot by an officer in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday afternoon—just before the verdict in the Chauvin case was announced.
“The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law,” said Garland.