MINNEAPOLIS (AFP) – The United States (US) Justice Department announced on Wednesday an investigation into the Minneapolis police, a day after a white former officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, signalling the Biden administration’s intention to use federal powers to clean up systemic police abuse.
Tuesday’s verdict raised cautious hopes in the Black community of a historic turning point in US justice, but the police killing of another African American cast a shadow over prospects for change less than 24 hours after Derek Chauvin was led from a Minneapolis courtroom in handcuffs.
The ex-officer – who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes – faces up to 40 years in prison after being found guilty of all charges over the death of the unarmed man.
The crime was recorded by a bystander whose video shocked the world, triggering mass protests across the US and beyond, while also prompting a national reckoning on racial injustice and police brutality.
“But only with the passage of time will we know if the guilty verdict in the trial… is the start of something that will truly change America and the experience of Black Americans,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd, the family’s most outspoken member, wrote in a Washington Post opinion column.
“It’s up to all of us to build on this moment.”
On Wednesday US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department systematically uses excessive force and “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing”, including during legal protests.
It will also examine whether the city force showed a pattern of discrimination and unlawful treatment of people with behavioural health disabilities. At the Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was killed, now a makeshift memorial, resident Helena Sere was “overwhelmed” in the aftermath of the guilty verdict but felt it stopped short of justice for Floyd.
“Justice would be being able to bring him back,” the 40-something African American told AFP. “But I would say the officer was made accountable for his actions, and I hope that’s the beginning of change.”
But with Sere and other Americans expressing relief that a rogue officer faced his due – and as President Joe Biden said the conviction could mark “a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America” – another instance emerged of police using lethal force.
Authorities in Ohio released body camera footage of an officer fatally shooting a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, who appeared to be lunging with a knife at another girl.
“As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting,” the Floyd family’s lawyer Ben Crump tweeted.
Police in Ohio’s largest city urged against a rush to judgment in the case, in which an officer shot Bryant 11 seconds after exiting his car.