A group of policemen on horses at night.

DOJ Calls for Overhaul of Minneapolis Police, but Reform Rarely Works

In June, the Department of Justice released the results of its investigation into the Minneapolis police department (MPD) following the murder of George Floyd. The Minneapolis police report describes a “systemic pattern of abuse” by the Minneapolis police (NPR). It came a month before the anniversaries of the 2016 police murders of Philando Castile (Star Tribune) and Alton Sterling (CNN) on July 5 and 6. 


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Some key findings: 

      • The murder of George Floyd wasn’t an outlier. It resulted from “systemic problems in MPD.”
      • “MPD used force to police or punish people who made officers angry or criticized the police.”
      • Minneapolis police “patrolled neighborhoods differently based on their racial composition and discriminated based on race when searching, handcuffing, or using force against people during stops.”
      • “We estimate that MPD stops Black people at 6.5 times the rate at which it stops White people, given their shares of the population. Similarly, we estimate MPD stops Native American people at 7.9 times the rate at which it stops white people, given population shares” (CNN). 

This report vindicates protesters’ claims from the summer of 2020: that police in Minneapolis, as elsewhere, are unaccountable, violent, and racist. The Minneapolis police report doesn’t fix any of that. The Department of Justice is expected to use its findings to pressure Minneapolis to enter into a “consent decree” that would mandate reform with federal oversight. That sounds promising. Consent decrees can mandate increased training or significant changes to policies and practices. However, existing police reform consent decrees fail miserably at reforming law enforcement. Some are barely implemented at all (NPR). 

Chicago police are in full compliance with just 5% of its federal consent decree. “I believe the Consent Decree is at a high risk of failing to achieve its objectives,” said the city’s former inspector general in a court filing. The ACLU’s Alexandra Block says that Chicago residents are “telling us they don’t see an effect.” The city has a new police use of force policy on paper. But in reality, “it doesn’t seem like those officers understand the new policies or are being held accountable to follow them” (NBC). 

Three-and-a-half years after Baltimore entered a consent decree, a federal judge expressed frustration at the lack of real police reform (CBS News). A Department of Justice attorney said that residents say they “don’t see” any improvements in police relations. That didn’t stop the consent decree monitoring team with “cozy relationships” with the local government from billing the city millions of dollars (Baltimore Banner). 

Oakland has been under a federal consent decree since 2000 when it emerged that a police gang beat and planted drugs on civilians (NPR). Oakland police still had to pay $57 million for misconduct lawsuits and settlements from 2001 to 2011. In that period, Oakland cops killed dozens of people, around 19 of them unarmed. The consent decree didn’t prevent police from shattering the skull of an Occupy Oakland protester with a bean bag round from a shotgun (Politico). It didn’t stop Oakland police from brutalizing an ex-city council member in 2019, costing the city $360,000 (Yahoo!). And it didn’t stop them from firing tear gas into a crowd of high school protesters in 2020 (The Verge).

There is “limited evidence” that consent decrees do anything to fix police misconduct. They have “little lasting impact” beyond “benefitting court-appointed consultants” (NPR). According to the government’s own Minneapolis police report, the MPD commits widespread violations of civil and constitutional rights. We have empirical evidence that the only remedy the federal government is expected to offer will not fix these systemic problems. That means we have every reason to expect the violence and abuse of civil liberties will continue. 

Unless, that is, we keep fighting and refuse to wait for the government to fix itself. Just as protesters in 2020 correctly identified the problems with the Minneapolis police, they also identified their solutions: not to wait for federal oversight or another official report but to force the defunding, disarmament, and abolition of police. We can’t let the conservative white backlash against Black Lives Matter and “rising crime” narratives in the media distract us from the reality that the largest purveyor of violence in our communities is the police. Struggling against and disempowering the police is the first step towards community safety.


• The Department of Justice found that Minneapolis police had a pattern of civil rights violations and abuse that led to the murder of George Floyd. 

• The federal government is expected to use the report to pressure Minneapolis to enter into a consent decree, as several other cities have already done. 

• Consent decrees do not reform police departments.

1742 1062 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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