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George Floyd Is Not The First Black Man To Die In Minneapolis Police Custody

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Minneapolis overnight, protests turned violent as fury mounted over the death of George Floyd in police custody.

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GREENE: Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck. His death follows a series of police killings, but some Minneapolis city leaders are treating his death differently. Here's Minnesota Public Radio's Brandt Williams.

BRANDT WILLIAMS, BYLINE: George Floyd is the fifth person to die at the hands of Minneapolis police while Jacob Frey has been mayor. Nearly all were black. Frey, who took office in 2018, has never responded before with an immediate call for prosecution of one of his officers as he did yesterday.

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JACOB FREY: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail? If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now. And I cannot come up with a good answer to that question.

WILLIAMS: In the past, the city's police union generally rushed to the defense of their officers and declared their use of force justified. Now the union is asking people to not jump to conclusions and to wait for the investigation into the death of George Floyd to run its course. The city's police chief, Medaria Arradondo, fired the officers less than a day after the killing. In past cases, officers were put on administrative leave. A group of black community leaders who appeared with Arradondo applauded the chief's decision.

Arradondo is the city's first black police chief. And he's earned the confidence of many leaders. However, it will take more than a black police chief to heal the rifts between members of the community and the Minneapolis Police Department. City data show African Americans are more likely than others to be stopped and searched by police and are disproportionate targets of police use of force. Leslie Badu (ph) of the Minneapolis NAACP said discrimination against African Americans is a serious problem all over the state despite its reputation.

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LESLIE REDMOND: Minnesota prides itself on being progressive and being the north. But this is the Jim Crow north.

WILLIAMS: In Minneapolis, she and other community leaders are angry that no officer in the city's police department has been convicted of murder in the on-duty fatal shooting of a black citizen. Steven Belton, head of the Minneapolis Urban League, said if the officers aren't held accountable this time, Floyd's death will stand as what he called state-sanctioned murder.

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STEVEN BELTON: It'll be sanctioned if nothing is done. It'll be sanctioned if it's business as usual. It'll be sanctioned if the history that we have in this country and in this community of ignoring black bodies and the death of black bodies at the hands of officers acting under the color of law is ignored.

WILLIAMS: Belton and the others are asking for an independent investigation, one that doesn't include the Hennepin County attorney's office. Belton criticized County Attorney Mike Freeman for not filing murder charges in other high-profile police killings, like that of Jamar Clark in 2015. However, Hennepin County did prosecute and get a conviction against Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.

It's a case that has drawn mixed reactions from some advocates for police accountability. Noor is black. Ruszczyk was white. The county attorney has said race was not a factor in his decision to prosecute the case. Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are investigating Floyd's death. For NPR News, I'm Brandt Williams in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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