Minnesota Department of Human Rights to launch civil rights investigation of Minneapolis Police

By: - June 2, 2020 12:13 pm

Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Tuesday filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis Police Department, launching an unprecedented investigation of the state’s largest police force for systemic discrimination against people of color. 

“Minnesotans, you can expect our administration (to) use every tool at our disposal to try and deconstruct systemic racism that is generations deep,” said Gov. Tim Walz in an extraordinary rebuke of the law enforcement agency. “As a step towards that deconstruction of systemic racism, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is filing a commissioner’s charge of discrimination to launch a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.”

The investigation will examine the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody and “others similar to it since at least January 1, 2010, and continuing to the present, require investigation,” the charge says. Derek Chauvin, who has since been fired and charged with murder and manslaughter, had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before Floyd died May 25. 

The action marks the first time a state agency has conducted such an investigation of a law enforcement agency, and it is expected to be extensive and wide-ranging. 

Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said the agency would conduct a 10-year review of the department’s policies, procedures and training. “This is looking at the system,” Lucero said. “This is not about holding people personally criminally liable. This is about systems change.” 

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said the Minneapolis Police Department has a cultural problem that has gone unchallenged for years.

“What is clear is that tragedies like the one that happened to George Floyd do not emerge from a few isolated bad actors,” she said. “But from patterns of misconduct, a culture and this is cultural, a culture that does not hold bad behavior accountable.”

The strong deed and words from the Walz administration illustrate how quickly the politics of policing police unions are shifting. The most recent DFL governor before Walz, former Gov. Mark Dayton, was a strong ally of the police. Now, however, progressives who normally stand with unions are demanding DFL lawmakers and Walz return political contributions from the Minneapolis police union.

Justin Terrell, the executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, an advisory group at the Capitol, commended the actions by the state. 

“We have over 150 years of policing in this state with a body of evidence that suggests that there are gross violations of the civil rights of Black people in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “When I think about what our ancestors did with less, it is disappointing that we have admired this problem for the last 10 years.”

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