Report criticizes response to unrest after Floyd’s killing

Published 5:47 am Friday, April 1, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS — An external review of Minnesota’s response to days of civil unrest following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd found several problems, including a lack of clear leadership early on as businesses were being destroyed and set ablaze, and a failure to discern peaceful from unlawful protesters.

The report by Wilder Research, commissioned by the Department of Public Safety and made public Thursday, said the state set up a multi-agency command center too late – four days after Floyd was killed. And the center had a “chaotic beginning,” with no clear chain of command, while the city of Minneapolis continued to operate it’s own emergency operations center with competing law enforcement strategies, the report said.

Floyd, who was Black, was killed May 25, 2020, when former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine and a half minutes as Floyd was handcuffed and lying facedown on the pavement. Bystander video showed Floyd said multiple times that he couldn’t breathe, before he eventually went silent and stopped moving.

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The killing sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the globe as part of a reckoning over racial injustice. In Minneapolis, some of the protests became violent as businesses, and even a police station, were ransacked and burned.

The report said the unrest was unplanned and left local and state agencies overextended.

Local police and emergency responders couldn’t respond to many calls for help. Several state agencies, as well as the National Guard, were called in — but the report said they were not experienced in handling large-scale civil disturbances over such an extended period, and the National Guard was mobilized too late.

The report found that several local agencies were following different rules of engagement. There was also a lack of communication, leading some communities and businesses to feel they weren’t being protected and to take matters into their own hands. Some viewed the law enforcement response as escalating.

It also noted some strengths. Among them, it found officials held numerous, informative press conferences, and the state acknowledged that the community had legitimate concerns after Floyd’s killing. It also noted that small mobile field force units were effective in addressing unrest in multiple locations. The report said that a curfew, when enforced, was also effective.

The report, which examined the state’s actions from May 26 through June 7, 2020, listed 20 recommendations to improve the state’s response and find ways to prevent such civil unrest from happening again.

One of the recommendations is to set up a command center quickly – and set up a clear chain of command. Another is to avoid escalating situations — by keeping riot gear prepared, but out of sight unless law enforcement officers are under imminent threat.

The report said Minnesota can do more to address tensions between law enforcement and communities, and must incorporate a “deeper sense of humanity” — particularly for Black Minnesotans — in the way it responds to civil unrest in the future.

It said numerous community members and business owners said racism and discrimination against Black Minneapolis residents, specifically racist practices by the Minneapolis Police Department, contributed to the unrest.

“Further research and evaluation are needed to understand the role of racism and other forms of bias in law enforcement responses to civil unrest and determine additional steps to address community distrust in law enforcement and state government,” the report found.

One key recommendation to prevent future unrest was for the state to lead efforts to reimagine policing and community safety and to engage communities in law enforcement oversight and accountability.

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said in a letter to Gov. Tim Walz, dated Wednesday, that the unrest was “unexpected and unprecedented.” He said his agency has already made changes to improve communication and police accountability, and some of the report’s recommendations have been implemented.

Harrington also urged the passage of $300 million for public safety funding for local governments, saying the money could be used to address some of the issues raised in the report, including investing in community policing models and efforts to create diverse police forces.

Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said it is “imperative” that lawmakers approve the funding as part of the governor’s comprehensive public safety plan. Tschann said Walz has reviewed the recommendations outlined in the report as well as a progress report from Harrington and he and state leaders “will take a close look at the findings and use them to help inform future work.”

A report issued earlier this month on the city’s response to the Minneapolis protests was sharply critical and included several recommendations, including improving police training on crowd control tactics. City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said city leaders are focused on implementing recommendations from that report, and they are reviewing Thursday’s report.

Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter and also pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Floyd’s civil rights. Three other former officers were also convicted of federal civil rights violations and are awaiting trial on state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.