The Federal Government Is “Affirming Everything That Black People Have Been Saying”

The Federal Government Is “Affirming Everything That Black People Have Been Saying”

The Federal Government Is “Affirming Everything That Black People Have Been Saying”

The Department of Justice report slamming the Minneapolis Police Department is also a cause for hope.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

Minneapolis—Nekima Levy Armstrong, a longtime attorney and civil rights leader, has had an imposing presence in protests against police violence and rallies for social justice in the Twin Cities.

She was out in the streets when officers from the Minneapolis Police Department killed Jamar Clark in 2015; Thurman Blevins in 2018; Chiasher Vue in 2019; George Floyd in 2020; and Amir Locke in 2022.

With these and many other violent deaths of people of color at the hands of law enforcement in Minnesota and across the nation, Armstrong said she could not think of a reason to be optimistic about the state of American policing.

Then last week came the Department of Justice’s unveiling of a two-year investigation into the MPD that may lead to a court-enforceable consent decree—a legally binding agreement between the federal government and the city—to overhaul the police department. Now Armstrong and other leaders think policing in the city might actually improve.

“If ever there was a time for optimism with regard to the possibility of change, it’s now,” Armstrong told me. “It’s a powerful signal to have a federal government coming in and affirming everything that Black people have been saying. Having the power of the federal government behind us to a consent decree can make a difference.”

But it’s a process, she admits, that could take a long time and requires careful strategic planning to get the department to a place where it serves the people of Minneapolis with respect, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.

THE FINDINGS

The Department of Justice launched the probe a day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in 2020. The investigation focused on whether the police department engaged in repeated abusive behavior that violated protected rights between November 2016 and August 2022.

Last week, as Attorney General Merrick Garland unveiled the findings at a press conference in Minneapolis, he outlined a pattern of racist policing and abusive behavior that “made what happened to George Floyd possible.” The 89-page report—based on interviews with community members, police officers, city officials, incident reports, ride-alongs, and body-camera footage—found that officers routinely used excessive and unjustified force, discriminated against Black and Native American people, and violated the rights of those engaging in protected speech.

“MPD officers stop, search, and then use force against people who are Black and Native American at disproportionate rates,” Garland said. “The data showed, for example, that MPD stopped Black and Native American people nearly six times more often than white people in situations that did not result in arrest or citation, given their shares of the population.”

The report also found that the department failed to discipline officers who engaged in racist or abusive behavior until the public demanded answers. Garland gave the example of a police officer, after a 2015 traffic stop, telling Somali American teens in a car, “Do you remember what happened in Black Hawk Down [a reference to a US military operation in Somalia in the early 1990s] when we killed a bunch of you folk? I’m proud of that. We didn’t finish the job over there. If we had, you guys wouldn’t be over here right now.”

The officer was not disciplined until a video clip that captured the incident went viral weeks later. “Such conduct is deeply disturbing,” Garland said. “It erodes the community’s trust in law enforcement.”

To the city’s communities of color, racist and abusive behavior at the hand of law enforcement is nothing new. For decades, these communities have been complaining—and fighting against—police brutality.

“As minority people that have lived through and endured the injustices,” Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, told me, “these are things that a lot of our community already knew.”

THE CONSENT DECREE

Garland also announced last week that the DOJ, the city of Minneapolis, and the MPD have agreed “in principle” to enter a consent decree to address the policing problems highlighted in the report. This means a federal judge will oversee agreement implementations until the city meets the changes required in the consent decree—a process that could last for years.

“This agreement commits the city and MPD to work with the Justice Department, the community, police officers, and other stakeholders to address the problems that we have identified, Garland said. “And this agreement commits all parties to negotiate a legally binding consent decree with an independent monitor.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who shared the stage with Garland and other federal officials at the news conference, agreed that the city has long had policing problems and admitted the need for federal intervention. “The truth is that we needed this help,” he said. “We need this partnership with the Department of Justice to further embed the policy shifts that we’ve made.”

Minneapolis is under a separate consent decree with the state, which also found many of the same police misconduct highlighted in the DOJ’s report. The city agreed to make sweeping changes in its policing practices.

Armstrong, the civil rights leader, said she anticipates that Minneapolis and the Department of Justice will be negotiating on some of the specific terms of the consent decree, including whether there will be one or two separate independent monitors for the state and federal consent decrees.

“I have some concerns about there potentially being one monitor,” she said. “Because if the monitor is terrible or just checks boxes, then you can potentially have that issue running through both levels of oversight.”

Minneapolis would become the latest in a list of cities that have come under federal consent decrees across the country. These cities include Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Newark, and New Orleans. For some police departments in these cities, it’s taken only a couple of years to make the required changes. For others, though, decades have passed.

Only time will tell how long it would take for Minneapolis to meet the terms of the agreement. Or whether the city’s policing will ever improve.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy
x