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US Justice Department confirms systematic police brutality, racism in Minneapolis

Attorney General Merrick Garland talks about a Department of Justice report that found the Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination during a news conference, Friday, June 16, 2023, in Minneapolis. (Photo by AP)

The US Justice Department has confirmed systematic police brutality and racism in Minneapolis while reporting on its probe into the city’s police department three years after the killing of George Floyd as  racial profiling and violence by US police remains rampant across the country.

In a scathing criticism of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), the American judiciary verified in a Friday report long-standing complaints that MPD officers systematically discriminated against racial minorities, violated constitutional rights and neglected the safety of people in custody years prior to the killing of the African American man by a White officer.  

The official report was the result of an “extensive” two-year investigation and confirmed many of the citizen complaints about police behavior that surfaced after Floyd's suffocating death. The federal probe further found that Minneapolis police officers used excessive force, including "unjustified deadly force," and violated the rights of people who engaged in constitutionally protected speech.

The investigation also concluded that both the police and the city discriminated against blacks, Native Americans, and people with "behavioral health disabilities."

However, US Attorney General Merrick Garland hailed "many MPD officers who did their difficult work with professionalism, courage and respect”  during a press conference in Minneapolis on Friday, ironically adding: “But the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible.”

Officers routinely neglect the safety of people in custody, Garland confirmed, citing multiple instances where a person complained they couldn't breathe, only to have officers respond with a version of “You can breathe. You’re talking right now.”

The report further affirmed that the police "use dangerous techniques and weapons against people who have committed minor crimes and sometimes no crime at all." Officers used force to punish people who angered the officers or criticized the police.

According to the federal report, police also "patrolled neighborhoods differently based on the racial makeup and discriminated on the basis of race when searching, handcuffing, or using force against people during stops."

The report comes amid persisting police violence and racial profiling across the United States, highlighted earlier this year by the brutal beating murder of African American youth Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers following an alleged traffic violation, underscoring the severity of human rights violations by US law enforcement officials.

As a result of the investigation, the city and police department agreed to a deal, known as a consent decree, that requires reforms overseen by an independent monitor and approved by a federal judge.

The arrangement is similar to purported reform efforts in major cities of Seattle, New Orleans, Baltimore, Chicago as well as Ferguson, Missouri following massive protest rallies against flagrant police brutality in the metropolitan areas.

Consent decrees require agencies to meet certain goals before removing federal oversight, a process that often takes years and costs millions of dollars.

The Minneapolis investigation began in April 2021, a day after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.

During their confrontation, Floyd repeatedly begged he couldn't breathe as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes. The killing was recorded by a bystander and sparked months of widespread protests as part of a wider national audit of racial injustice.

The Justice Department reviewed police practices dating back to 2016 and found that officers sometimes shot at people without determining whether there was an immediate threat.

Police officers also used neck restraints like the one Chauvin used on Floyd nearly 200 times from Jan. 1, 2016, to Aug. 16, 2022, including 44 cases that did not require an arrest. Some officers continued to use neck restraints even after they were banned in the wake of Floyd's murder, the report said.

Research shows that black drivers in Minneapolis are 6.5 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers, and Native American drivers are 7.9 times more likely to be pulled over. Police often retaliated against protesters and journalists covering demonstrations, the report said.

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, described the findings "disturbing" and claimed in a written statement that they "underscore the urgent need for Congress to enact common-sense reforms to increase public trust, combat racial discrimination and thereby strengthen public safety."

Biden, however, has done very little throughout his long political carrier in terms of taking meaningful action to change gun laws or protect minority rights and safety. This is while the US Congress has never in recent history passed any laws to prevent racial discrimination. 

Three years since Floyd's murder, proponents of federal actions - such as banning choke holds and changing the so-called qualified immunity protections for law enforcement - still await meaningful signs of change.

The official confirmation of police brutality in the US also comes as Washington's State Department continues to issues bi-annual reports judging human rights records of other nations across the globe in what observers widely regard as a politically self-serving measure to impose sanctions or dictate its will on different countries.

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