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How Bad Is the Systemic Failure of Minneapolis Law Enforcement?

Pretty bad.
June 10, 2020
How Bad Is the Systemic Failure of Minneapolis Law Enforcement?
Police officers block a road on the fourth day of protests on May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The National Guard was activated as protests continued after the death of George Floyd. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

1. This Is Police

I’ve made this point before but I’m going to make it again: The reason people are in the streets isn’t because there are “a few bad apples” in police ranks.

It’s because there is systemic corruption in many law enforcement organizations which actively enables and covers for bad police.

I suspect that people would have much different thoughts about George Floyd’s murder if, in the immediate aftermath, the Minneapolis Police Department had gone after the four officers involved, hammer and tongs.

Instead, this is the official statement that was put out by the MPD:

Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction

May 25, 2020 (MINNEAPOLIS) On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.

No officers were injured in the incident.

Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.

The GO number associated with this case is 20-140629.

Why did the MPD believe this was a “medical incident”? Is that what all four officers told their superiors?

If it was true that body cameras were active, then the MPD had the footage. They knew what happened.

And they should have been suspicious to begin with because of the officers involved.

Officer Derek Chauvin has had 18 official complaints lodged against him over his career.

Officer Tou Thou had been involved in an excessive force incident so serious that the city settled a lawsuit relating to it for $25,000.

If you’re management in the MPD and a guy dies while being taken into custody by two officers with that sort of history, your antennae should start twitching immediately.

And that’s before you even look at the body camera footage.

Instead, the MPD’s first response was to try to sweep the killing under the rug.

But it’s not just management at the MPD. There’s the medical examiner’s, too.

The first autopsy report on Floyd claimed that it “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” Instead, Floyd died because of, well, here. Have a look:

Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.

So yes, the man who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck is the problem. But so are the officers who stood there and did nothing about it. And so are the officers at HQ who pushed out a story they should have known was untrue. And so was the medical examiner who came up with a ridiculous cover-story in order to alibi the cops

All which means means that even if the number of bad cops on the streets truly is small, the rest of the law enforcement system in Minneapolis is too corrupted to manage them.

We’re not done yet, though. Because on Monday night Earl Gray, the lawyer for Officer Thomas Lane—one of the cops who participated in the murder of Floyd—went on CNN to mount a legal defense of his client.

This is what Gray said:

If all these people say “why didn’t my client intercede,” well, if the public is there and they’re so in an uproar about this, they didn’t intercede either.

That’s the defense. The onlookers who were taping the incident and trying to tell the police that they were killing Floyd didn’t rush the police and try to overpower them. So what the police were doing wasn’t really all that wrong.

This is the defense from a cop’s lawyer.

It’s corruption, all the way down.

2. Destruction of Property

One last thing: On Monday the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that police officers had taken to slashing the tires of parked cars during the protests.

You read that right. Police used knives to slash the tires of people’s cars.

And here’s the official explanation from the Department of Public Safety:

State Patrol troopers strategically deflated tires … in order to stop behaviors such as vehicles driving dangerously and at high speeds in and around protesters and law enforcement.

Destroying the tires on a legally parked car with no one in it is “strategic deflation” in order to prevent someone from maybe using the car in a dangerous manner at some unknown later date.

And this is not the work of a rogue bad cop, but accepted policy on the part of law enforcement.

This is what I mean when I say that the protests aren’t about a couple bad apples. They’re about the way in which the entire chain of law enforcement in Minneapolis—and many other places—has been corrupted.

3. Annapolis

I’m not quite sure what this Washingtonian profile is really about: the Navy, tenure and the corruptions of the academy, academic freedom, the inherent problem of government employees, political correctness? I mean, it could be about all of them. Or none of them.

But it’s pretty wild:

The US Merit Systems Protection Board—the judicial dustbin where the United States does battle with employees it wants to fire—is one building no bureaucrat ever wants to see. The jig may well be up by the time you arrive: Terminating a civil servant is so comically burdensome that the very fact of anyone assembling here means Uncle Sam has judged him worthy of the exertion. Certainly that was true last year when the court heard the case of US Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming.

The Academy’s commandant had arrived that day in his Service Khakis—gold clipped belt, shined black shoes, collar insignia denoting rank. Across the aisle, in a Corneliani jacket and yellow bow tie, was the flopping marlin the school had spent years trying to spear: Fleming, a longtime English teacher. Or, as the Navy would argue, a threat to order and discipline, a corrupting influence, and, reading between the lines, a profound pain in the ass.

A grudging civility hung in the air. After three military investigations, one department inquiry, a three-year-long federal lawsuit, and one whistleblower complaint, most everybody knew everybody by now. This time, the Navy had brought allegations on behalf of five students: that Fleming had discussed oral sex and transgender surgery in class, lobbed a political epithet at two midshipmen, touched one inappropriately, and, among other things, deliberately mispronounced an Asian student’s name and told the student to “f— off” (Fleming denied the last accusation). The charge that had garnered the most attention was a photo: a shirtless selfie Fleming had sent to students.

Some of the allegations would set off alarms anywhere, not least at the storied service academy, where future officers are shaped by the Honor Concept and Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fleming, though, barely raised a brow behind his tortoiseshell glasses. Over years of fighting the Navy, he’d proven impossible to fire, even as he’d acknowledged—proudly, in fact—many incidents the brass described.

It was true, for instance, that he’d told a student to fix his lisp—he said he had been “doing the Navy a favor” by pointing it out, according to the findings of one Academy investigation. And he’d happily admitted discussing anal sex in class. He was fond, too, of lampooning Academy traditions, such as the famous Herndon ritual, in which shirtless plebes climb a greased obelisk. “Talk about homoerotic! This is, like, jacked-boy mud wrestling!” he exclaimed before outlining to me his theory of Annapolis’s culture of sexual repression.

Fleming called this most recent attempt to fire him “the most skewed, the most horrible, the most demeaning” ordeal of his career. He described Academy officials to me as “assholes” and “shits.”

This year, the Naval Academy was ranked highest among public liberal-arts college in America—an honor owing to its unique arrangement in which military and civilian instructors teach side by side. Fleming, beloved by his defenders as a refreshingly contrarian voice in a chauvinistic military culture, is exhibit A for anyone who sees preserving that arrangement as important. Yet he’s also the worst spokesman imaginable for just about any cause.

Which is strange because, after all these years of sparring with the higher-ups, a larger cause is precisely what he has inspired.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.