DETROIT – Minnesota Attorney General (AG) Keith Ellison -- the man in charge of prosecuting the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd -- spoke with Local 4′s Devin Scillian to discuss the difficulties of the case and racism in the United States.
- You can watch the full interview in the video above.
George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man, was killed on May 25 by a police officer who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while he was in police custody, handcuffed and laying on the ground. The now-former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder in addition to third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Three other officers involved in the incident have been charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
Though there is video evidence of Floyd’s death from a bystander -- a video that went viral and sparked national outrage -- prosecutors have warned the public that the legal process is complicated and convictions won’t necessarily be obtained easily.
“These cases are not easy. It’s important for people to understand that," Attorney General Ellison said. "We look at the video and we (think), ‘it couldn’t be more clear, what’s the problem?’ Well, the problem is (that) it’s a complicated set of features of our system --which, I think, up until now, have led to the under-prosecution of excessive force of our police.”
Ellison, a Detroit-native, says winning a conviction will be hard, which is proven by the many cases against police officers for using excessive force that never resulted in convictions or even indictments -- such as in the cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.
Still, Ellison says he is committed to prosecuting the former Minneapolis police officers to the fullest extent of the law.
“I am going to put every cell of my being into obtaining convictions that are supported by the facts and the law. We are going to do our best at every single link of the prosecutorial chain, and then we’re going to put it in the hands of the jury," Ellison said. “Now, I have confidence that Minnesotans will do the right thing and enforce the law and find guilt. I wouldn’t have charged this case out unless I believe that. But ultimately, this will be a decision by the jury, most likely.”
Floyd’s killing almost two weeks ago has sparked a national wave of protests calling for an end to police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. Across the country demonstrators are demanding convictions and justice for George Floyd, as well as other Black Americans recently and killed at the hands of police officers, such as Kentucky woman Breonna Taylor.
Floyd’s family is even asking for first-degree murder charges to be brought against Chauvin. Ellison says he’s open to the possibility of adding new charges, but some officials believe it would be too difficult to prove first-degree murder.
Ellison says he hopes this moment and national movement can motivate Americans to better understand racism and start enacting change.
“For 243 years, African Americans were held as property. For 100 years after that, we were held as second-class citizens -- including in the north, like in Detroit and Minneapolis. And it’s only been about 55 years that we have not had state-sanctioned suppression of Black people. Only about 55 years. And since that time, we’ve had disparities in every aspect of American life: from police, criminal justice, incarceration, education, economics, jobs, housing, everything. And so we have yet to really reach that ‘liberty and justice for all’ goal," Ellison said. "This moment that we’re in I hope makes everyone of all colors -- Black, white, Latino, Asian, everybody -- say that we want an America where it really is about the content of your character. That’s really what this moment calls for. And that’s what I’m going to do my part to advance.”
In addition to advancing the movement, Ellison says it is also necessary to “shift policing” and get to the “underlying solutions” in order to prevent further tragedies. Among those solutions is determining just how serious the issue of police brutality is in the U.S., according to Ellison.
“I think Congress needs to actually set up a system of to calculate and collect data on deadly force encounters and non-lethal force of American police," Ellison told Local 4. “We need to have that data collection so we can know what the scale of the problem is; we don’t yet have that.”
The Minneapolis AG also called for increased police training and empowering police chiefs to dismiss officers engaging in misconduct. His message comes just days after Minnesota agreed to ban police chokeholds and neck restraints following the killing of Floyd.
Police reform is also underway in Michigan amid the national unrest. The State Senate passed a bill last week that will require incoming law enforcement officers to complete implicit bias, de-escalation and mental health screening trainings as part of their certification process.
Protesters have taken over streets across Metro Detroit for nine days to support equity and decry police brutality. Most protests in Michigan -- and throughout the country -- have remained peaceful, though some in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit ended in severe damage and multiple arrests last weekend.
AG Ellison joined Detroit leaders in encouraging peaceful protests in the name of George Floyd, saying that arson and looting are only victimizing more people in an already tragic situation.
Ellison says the peaceful protests have brought necessary attention and awareness to the long-standing issue of racism in the U.S.
“The peaceful protestors have raised the issue up so that maybe our society can really deal with it,” Ellison said. “Now it will be time, soon, to really begin to finish the job that the protesters did so well to raise. Now, we do need people to get together and engage in reform.”