At first, the “breaking” tags on this story puzzled me, as the Department of Justice had already made their civil-rights probe into George Floyd’s homicide known. We’ve known that for at least two months, when it became known that then-AG William Barr refused to cooperate with a plea deal that would have ended the DoJ’s involvement in the case. And as Merrick Garland mentions in the video below, the DoJ had already announced that probe publicly anyway.
Today’s announcement, however, is about a broader investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The timing is still curious, however (via Citizen Free Press):
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday that the Justice Department will conduct a broad investigation into alleged abuses at the Minneapolis Police Department, examining whether its officers have a “pattern or practice” violating the civil rights of residents.
The move, made public one day after a jury in Minneapolis found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd last year, appears to signal a return by the Biden administration to more aggressive and frequent use of such probes aimed at rooting out systemic civil rights abuses in police departments.
“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland told reporters in a brief statement at Justice Department headquarters in Washington. “Public safety requires public trust.”
The timing on this announcement is beyond curious. Why announce it now, rather than immediately after Garland got confirmed as Attorney General? William Barr and Donald Trump weren’t ideologically inclined to pursue consent-decree control of local policing, but Barack Obama and Joe Biden certainly were during their two terms in the White House.
It’s true that the trial didn’t resolve “potentially systemic policing issues,” but that’s not what the trial was designed to do either. Garland certainly should know that. On top of which, nothing about the trial revealed anything new about the Minneapolis PD’s policing; in fact, the prosecution of Chauvin rested mainly on his deviations from policing practices and policies, which helped a jury convict him. Why wait for three months to act when any alleged deficiencies in Minneapolis policing have been aired out for almost a year?
If the first impulse is to say that Garland didn’t want to interfere in the criminal trial process, don’t forget that Chauvin isn’t the only person charged in the case. The other three police officers involved will go on trial in August, as their cases were separated due to concerns over COVID-19 distancing requirements in the courtroom. This announcement will hang over that trial too, and might actually give the defense some ammunition to argue that their clients are being set up to take the fall of a system bad enough to warrant federal intervention. (It’s not likely to work, but they’ll try it.)
Either way one cuts it, this probe gives Minneapolis’ government a shiner, even if they’re trying to spin their way out of accountability. The Strib’s Andy Mannix reports that the city council “applauded” Garland’s announcement:
The investigation, applauded by 12 City Council members and the Mayor shortly after the announcement, will seek to establish whether the state’s largest police department is engaging in practices that promote or allow systemic wrongdoing. Over the next several months, the independent civil rights probe will bring Justice Department investigators inside the walls of the police department and out in the community to talk to potential victims. It will be conducted by a combination of Justice Department “experienced” attorneys and other personnel in Minnesota and from the headquarters in Washington, D.C., Garland said.
The pattern and practice probe will run parallel to the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into Chauvin. Leading up to the trial, the federal prosecutors ramped up calling witnesses before a grand jury, signaling a possible round of federal civil rights charges for Chauvin. Sources familiar with those secretive proceedings say federal prosecutors are investigating Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd and a 2017 arrest during which Chauvin pinned a 14-year-old with his knee.
Ahem. Who exactly is responsible for the Minneapolis PD? The city council and Mayor Jacob Frey are literally applauding a federal intervention caused by their own failure to set and enforce proper policing policies. The city government shouldn’t be applauding this — Minneapolis residents should be angrily demanding an explanation from Frey and each of the council members why it was necessary in the first place.
By the way, we can lay that blame squarely at the feet of progressives. The city government has been controlled by progressives for decades. The last time Republicans had a council majority was 1971, and by the end of that decade not a Republican was left on it.
The end result of this will almost certainly be a consent decree between the city and the DoJ. The council wants that because it allows them to shirk their responsibilities, and likely will help them dodge some contractual issues with MPD on discipline. Had the progressive-dominated Minneapolis city councils taken their job seriously in the first place, perhaps none of this would have been necessary, and George Floyd might be alive and facing a counterfeiting charge rather than end up dead.