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The attorney general who prosecuted the murderer of George Floyd has ideas on how to end police brutalityNPR
Updated May 23, 2023 at 7:02 AM m. ET
Three years have passed in one week since the murder of George Floyd.
The video showed Derek Chauvin, a white man, kneeling Floyd, a black man, to the ground for more than nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life. Within hours, protests broke out in Minneapolis and around the world.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has called on Attorney General Keith Ellison to bring charges against the former police officer who killed Floyd when local communities lost faith in district attorneys.
Ellison documented the process. and released to the public in the form of so-called booksBreaking the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence, leaving on Tuesday.
In the video, Ellison recounts how he cried when he first saw the video of Floyd's murder.
"It was a moment of control for me, where you wonder, 'What am I doing? Why am I here?'" Ellison told NPR's Leila Fadell. "And my answer must be that we will do everything possible to ensure that the result is fair, equitable and correct."
during an interviewmorning edition, Ellison discussed the lessons learned from Chauvin's conviction for aiding and abetting the murder of Floyd and three other former police officers. He recalled his hope that outrage over Floyd's death would end state-sponsored violence against black Americans.
"We haven't gotten to the point where we can resolve this issue," Ellison said. “But I still believe that the George Floyd impeachment is still possible if we show the political will to stop it.”
Since then, there have been other high-profile police killings of black people, shootingsjaylan walkerin Akron, Ohio last June until he was beaten to deathtire nicholesA traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this year.
The officials involved are not always held to account: last month, for example, a grand juryrefuse to press chargesEight officers were hired who shot Walker, and former Louisville officer Myles Cosgrove, who shot Breonna Taylor in March 2020.in neighboring counties.
Ellison says that's why the federal police in particular need to be reformed.George Floyd Police Justice Act, so necessary. (The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate.)
"Unfortunately, until we end this phenomenon, things like this are likely to happen again," Ellison said. "We need the help of others to understand what happened so they can make the right political decisions."
For his part, he believes that making history is the key to finally ending the pattern of police brutality.
"I hope someone reads this book and says, 'This could happen in my town.' Here are some of the things they did here that worked. Here are some of the things they did that probably didn't work," Ellison said. "We can use them to prevent and stop this problem, breaking the wheel."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On the importance of the reform of the federal police
Congress should pass this law to show that our nation's highest legislature has said that this is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed. Whether the person has a license plate or not, we must prosecute the crimes. People should be fired if they regularly break the rules. I don't think we go from a bad situation to a perfect situation overnight. Sometimes this is what police officers have to do to protect their own lives and the lives of others. But there are still too many cases, like those of Tyra Nichols and others, that seem unnecessary, cruel, and tear at the very fabric of our society.
On the need for police administrative accountability
We need to have a national registry so that if you have an officer who violates someone's human rights, violates departmental rules, [they] can't go to another department and go from there. A prominent example is the case of Tamir Rice, an officer who was declared unfit to serve in the Ohio State Police, went to Cleveland and was hired.
…I think the hiring challenges facing police as an industry may have something to do with the fact that people like Derek Chauvin and Myles Cosgrove have brought the industry into disrepute. I believe that we will be more successful in recruiting if people believe that their colleagues will maintain high standards of professionalism.
On rectifying police culture
There's this idea, this idea that I don't think is true, that you have white cops killing blacks, that's the model. In fact, we know that is not the case. If you're a female officer or an officer of color, you join that department, and if that department has a toxic culture, you're pushed into it.
So even if a young black man joins the police department, if he has the worst [field training officer], like [former Minneapolis police officer] FTO J. Alexander Kueng is Derek Chauvin. Simply diversifying departments without really changing the top, including changing culture, will only repeat the same results. These changes imply accountability, freeing the system from impunity. Simply getting more officers of color is not a panacea.
Chauvin narrowly wins again after impeachment
Law enforcement union members spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to beat me. They do this because the message they want to send is that if you sue a police officer, you could be risking your job. It would suck if I lost the election, but I won't regret it. But I don't want any prosecutor in the United States to have to say, I will serve justice... or pursue my political interests, which means I can resign.
I want prosecutors to know that they can do the right thing and that after taking on some tough cases, they're going to have to make some tough decisions. We want to break the wheel, but... the reality is that we are going to have to tear it off.
Radio interview produced by Ziad Buchh and Ana Perez, edited by Jan Johnson and Reena Advani.
Copyright 2023 NPR. For more information, visit https://www.npr.org.
Leila Fadell, President:
Three years ago this week, police killed a black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was recorded on video. The video lasted just over nine minutes. Floyd, whose neck was below the knee of a white police officer, begged for his life. Protests broke out in Minneapolis and then around the world. When the local community lost faith in the district attorney, it fell to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to open a case against the police officer who killed Floyd.
KEITH ELLISON: It was a moment of control for me where you wonder what the hell is going on and why am I in this. My answer has to be that we will do everything in our power to ensure that the outcome is fair, equitable and correct.
Fadell: He had former police officer Derek Chauvin convicted of Floyd's murder, and then three other officers convicted of aiding and abetting. Three years later, Ellison published Breaking the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence. He said the outrage over Floyd's death provided an opportunity to finally end the cycle of state-sponsored violence against African Americans.
ELLISON: We're not at the point where we're going to fix this, but I still believe that the George Floyd impeachment is still possible if we show the political will to stop it.
Fadell: In what way? I mean, I remember being in Minneapolis when the verdict came out, and it was the utter shock and then the euphoria of responsibility. And you said that that day was not justice, but responsibility, a step towards justice. But ever since, the police have been after Tire Nichols...
Ellison: Of course.
FADEL: ...the traffic jam in Memphis, the dozens of shots fired by Jayland Walker in Akron, Ohio, Patrick Lyoya, Amir Locke in Minneapolis, just a few examples. I mean, what has to happen?
ELLISON: We need to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act to show that our nation's highest legislature has said that this is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed. Whether the person has a license plate or not, we must prosecute the crimes. People should be fired if they regularly break the rules. I don't think we go from a bad situation to a perfect situation overnight. Sometimes this is what police officers have to do to protect their own lives and the lives of others. But there are still too many cases, like those of Tire Nichols and others, that seem unnecessary and cruel, tearing at the very fabric of our society.
FADEL: What specifically would change the way the police work in this bill?
Ellison: We need to have a national registry so that if you have an officer who violates someone's human rights, violates departmental regulations, you can't just go to another department and go from there. One prominent example is the case of Tamir Rice, an officer who was declared unfit for duty with the Ohio State Police, went to Cleveland and was hired.
FADEL: I mean, I mean Myles Cosgrove too, he...
FADEL: ...caused the murder of Breonna Taylor - he was fired, and now he's just been transferred to the next county sheriff's department.
Alison: Yes. I think the recruitment challenges facing the police industry may have something to do with people like Derek Chauvin and Myles Cosgrove bringing the industry into disrepute.
Fadell: You spend some time in the book investigating the race of the two officers convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd. One is Alexander Kueng, a half-breed...
FADEL: ...which is black. And he, according to his book, joined the police to change things, to improve them.
Ellison: There's an idea, and I don't think it's true, that there are white cops killing blacks, and that's the model. In fact, we know that is not the case. If you're a female officer or an officer of color, you join that department, and if that department has a toxic culture, you're pushed into it. So even a young black man joining the police, possibly with good intentions, is not going to change the institution. If his FTO is the worst performer, like J. Alexander Kueng's FTO Derek Chauvin, just to diversify the department without real change at the top, including culture change, he'll just repeat the same result. These changes are about accountability, about a system free of impunity, and simply adding people of color or female police officers is not a panacea.
FADEL: Now the final chapter of your book is about what happens after the case is prosecuted. You almost got re-elected as state's attorney.
Alison: Yeah. Well, there's no question about it. I mean, people associated with the law enforcement union have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to beat me. They do this because the message they want to send is that if you sue a police officer, you could be risking your job. It would be a shame if he lost the election. But I won't regret it. I don't want any prosecutor in the United States to have to say, I'm going to get justice, or I'm going to take care of my political interests, which means I can resign. That's why I really had to do everything in my power to win, because I want to show the prosecutors that you can do the right thing. You will have to survive these difficult decisions after having to accept some difficult cases. We want to break the wheel, but the reality is that we have to.
Fadell: Your book feels like a historical record of the US Attorney's Office, from your perspective as a state's attorney, from the moment you cried watching the video of the murder of George Floyd to the moment you the murderer rendered account. Why is it important to have this record?
Ellison: Because, unfortunately, until we end this phenomenon, something like this is likely to happen again. I really, really, really want other people who care about politics (ordinary citizens, prosecutors, city council members, everyone), the mayor, you know, Congress, to know what's going on inside so that they can. There are all the lessons. that can be learned so we can fix this because we can stop it in the first place. We can stop police brutality. We can build better relationships between the police and the community. I think making history is the key. I hope someone reads this and says, you know, this could happen in my city; these are some of the things they are doing here that work; These are some of the things that they are doing that might not work, that we can use to prevent and stop this problem, break the wheel.
Fadell: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. His new book is Breaking the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence. thank you.
Allison: Thank you Leila.
(AUDIO TRACK TO "I HEARD YOU LOOKING" by YO LA TENGA) Transcript courtesy of NPR, Copyright NPR.