Saturday, June 17, 2023

DOJ: Racism, excessive force and unconstitutional practices by Minneapolis police

The Justice Department said on that the Minneapolis police routinely discriminated against Black and Native American people, used deadly force without justification and trampled the First Amendment rights of protesters and journalists — damning findings that grew out of a multiyear investigation and may lead to a court-enforced overhaul, reported The New York Times.

The federal review was touched off by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis officer in 2020, a crime that led to protests and unrest across the country. But the Justice Department’s scathing 89-page report looked well beyond that killing, describing a police force impervious to accountability whose officers beat, shot and detained people unjustly and patrolled without the trust of residents.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, speaking at a news conference in Minneapolis, said Mr. Floyd’s “death has had an irrevocable impact on the Minneapolis community, on our country and around the world,” and that “the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible.”

The murder of Mr. Floyd, who was captured on video saying “I can’t breathe” while he was pinned to the ground by Officer Derek Chauvin, focused international attention on the Minneapolis Police Department. But to many people in the city, where protesters had complained for years about police excesses, Mr. Floyd’s death, as horrifying as it was, was not entirely surprising. The Justice Department investigators described “numerous incidents in which officers responded to a person’s statement that they could not breathe with a version of, ‘You can breathe; you’re talking right now.’”

The Justice Department’s report was almost uniformly critical, painting a disturbing portrait of a dysfunctional law enforcement agency where illegal conduct was common, racism was pervasive and misconduct was tolerated.

In many cases, investigators found, officers fired weapons without assessing the threat they faced; used neck restraints even in interactions that did not lead to an arrest; and used their Tasers, sometimes without warning, on pedestrians and drivers who had committed minor offenses or no offense at all.

The patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible. We found that M.P.D. and the City of Minneapolis engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, unlawfully discriminating against Black and Native American people in enforcement activities, violating the rights of people engaged in protected speech and discriminating against people with behavioral disabilities and responding to them — when responding to them in crisis. We found that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely uses excessive force, often when no force is necessary, including unjust, deadly force and unreasonable use of Tasers. M.P.D. officers discharged firearms at people without assessing whether the person presents any threat, let alone a threat that would justify deadly force. We also found that M.P.D. officers routinely disregard the safety of people in their custody. Our review found numerous incidents in which M.P.D. officers responded to a person’s statement that they could not breathe with a version of “You can breathe. You’re talking right now.” Based on our review of the data, M.P.D. officers stop, search and then use force against people who are Black and Native American at disproportionate rates. We found several incidents in which M.P.D. officers were not held accountable for racist conduct until there was a public outcry.

 “This is not a secret,” said Bridgette Stewart, a lifelong Minnesotan who is Black and who has regularly spent time at the site of Mr. Floyd’s murder. “This is something that’s been going on in Minnesota for many, many, many, many years — longer than I’ve been alive.”

Minneapolis officials appeared at the news conference alongside the attorney general on Friday, and promised to negotiate with the Justice Department to reach an overhaul agreement, known as a consent decree, that would be monitored in federal court and would force specific changes to the Police Department. Similar consent decrees have followed federal investigations of police misconduct in other American cities, including BaltimoreCleveland and New Orleans.

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