Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed Wednesday that the Justice Department is launching a broad inquiry into police practices in Minneapolis, following the conviction of a former officer in the killing of George Floyd there.
The news comes only one day after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, causing relief as well as sorrow across the world.
The death of the Black man sparked months of nationwide demonstrations against police in the United States.
The Department of Justice is now looking at whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights.
“The state criminal trial verdict from yesterday would not resolve the possibility of structural policing problems in Minneapolis,” Garland said.
The inquiry is known as a “pattern or practice” investigation, because it will look into whether there is a pattern or practice of unethical or illegal policing. It will be a more sweeping investigation into the entire police force, and it may result in drastic improvements to policing there.
It would look at police tactics, such as use of force and use of force during demonstrations, as well as if the department participates in discriminatory practices.
It will also investigate the department’s handling of misconduct complaints and treatment of people with mental health problems, as well as evaluate the department’s existing accountability processes, according to Garland. It’s uncertain if the investigation will start after Floyd’s death or before.
Floyd, 46, was arrested on suspicion of exchanging a fake $20 bill at a corner market for a pack of cigarettes. When police attempted to place him in a patrol car, he panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic, and fought with them. Instead, they threw him to the ground.
Bystander footage showed Floyd, handcuffed behind his back, gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers shouting at Chauvin to stop while the officer forced his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse, according to authorities.
Floyd’s passing, the shooting of a Black American by law enforcement on May 25 became a flashpoint in the national debate and prompted worldwide demonstrations.
Chauvin’s defense counsel insisted during the trial that Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Floyd’s neck for as long as prosecutors said, claiming instead that it was around Floyd’s back, shoulder blades, and arm.
President Joe Biden vowed his administration would not rest after the jury’s verdict in the case, so the decision to launch a broad Justice Department investigation makes sense. He said that more needed to be done in a Tuesday evening speech.
“George Floyd’s last words were, ‘I can’t breathe,'” Biden said.
“We can’t let those words die with him; we need to hear them again and again. We can’t turn away.”
Three people familiar with the matter told the Associated that the Justice Department had considered launching a trend or activity investigation into the police department shortly after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General Bill Barr was reluctant to do so at the time, believing that it would trigger more divisions in law enforcement amid ongoing demonstrations and civil unrest.