ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's state Department of Human Rights has filed a civil charge against the Minneapolis Police Department, vowing to investigate 10 years of alleged civil rights violations by the state's largest police department. The investigation will be the first of its kind in Minnesota.
The charge was filed on Tuesday, June 2, just over a week after a white MPD officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from St. Louis Park, for nearly nine minutes. Floyd died the night of Monday, May 25, and two autopsies have ruled his death a homicide.
Former police officer Derek Chauvin, who was kneeling on Floyd's neck, was fired from the MPD and charged with murder and manslaughter. The other three officers, who did not interfere to stop Chauvin -- Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng -- also were fired, but none have been arrested or charged. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has taken over the case.
State officials say through the probe, the state will determine "if the MPD has engaged in systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color and ensure any such practices are stopped." The investigation will be led by Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero.
After a week of protests and calls for justice throughout Minnesota and the country, Gov. Tim Walz said at a Tuesday news conference that the investigation will be a tangible step in correcting years of "deep-seeded" racial inequality, particularly in policing. Minnesota consistently ranks high in having some of the starkest racial disparities in income, education and housing in the country.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Floyd's death should have never happened, but that his case "does not exist in isolation."
"George Floyd's name joins a too-long list of black men and women who have been needlessly killed at the hands of law enforcement in this country," Flanagan said. "The grief torn through this city and state did not emerge in a vacuum. It began on years of injustice. We can work to end it now."
According to Minnesota's civil rights law, it is illegal for police departments to discriminate based on race. Officials said by looking back 10 years, they will be able to determine any patterns of discrimination within the MPD. The state's findings will be addressed in a consent decree with the police department to establish reforms.
Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said the charge is a first step in addressing systematic unequal treatment of black Minnesotans. He said every year after long winters, once the weather warms, Minnesotans take advantage of the opportunity to go out in the sun -- and that this moment is also an opportunity.
"If you've got an opportunity, you take it," Terrell said. "I expect fully that the governor, our commissioner, the lieutenant governor and all the leadership of the state take full advantage of this opportunity to transform our policing system in this state."
State Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said his department is "100% behind" the investigation, saying that police officers are eager for change and "don't want to work in a flawed system."