Keith Ellison, Who Prosecuted Derek Chauvin, On Police Reform Efforts The Minnesota attorney general who prosecuted Derek Chauvin wants Congress to act on police reform. He wants to see a national registry of "bad cops" and limitations on qualified immunity.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison Sees A Cycle Of Inaction On Police Reform

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, was sentenced last week to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder. But this was one case and one officer. So what does a broader solution look like? Congress is asking. The House has passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It hasn't reached the Senate. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is with us now on Skype. Good morning, sir.

KEITH ELLISON: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

KING: We appreciate you being here. Let me start by asking you about Derek Chauvin's sentence. It was less time than you had asked for. It is, however, 10 more years than state guidelines suggested. What went through your head when you heard 22 1/2 years?

ELLISON: You know, really what went through my head is the life that we lost in George Floyd, the trust that was lost when Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd over 9 1/2 minutes in front of the whole wide world, including the people standing on the street. Quite honestly, my mind was not fixated on a number. I know we had asked for 30 years and - but there was no magic number. There was a number that I thought it needed to exceed. There was a minimum number, I guess. But I think the judge sentenced within the range that I thought was possible or likely. But what really was in my mind is the enormity of the moment and the fact that finally somebody was being held accountable for what happened to George Floyd.

KING: OK. There was a strange moment during the sentencing. Derek Chauvin talked directly to the Floyd family and said, quote, "I want to give my condolences." But then he said they would get more information that may bring them, quote, "peace of mind." No one seemed to know what he was talking about. Do you have any idea?

ELLISON: Only speculation, which is not any better than anyone else's. You know, I can tell you that I personally think it's good when people who have inflicted tremendous wrong on others extend condolences and express remorse. I mean, I remember one of the brothers who gave a testimony at the sentencing hearing said, why didn't you get up? You know, why did you do what you did? What was going through your mind? Maybe - I hope Chauvin's good for his word and does give the family the answers that I think they deserve.

KING: OK. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, you wrote that we are stuck in a, quote, "cycle of inaction" on police reform. What do you mean by that?

ELLISON: Well, Kenneth Clark, the noted sociologist who did the doll study in the Brown vs. Board of Education case and then later testified in front of the Kerner Commission, talked about it movingly when he said, look, you know, there is a cycle. You have some act of violence by a state actor, like a police officer. You have protests. Sometimes you have unrest. Then you have commissions. Then they study it and make recommendations. And then we don't do anything. And that has happened repeatedly. He noted a cycle that started as early as 1919 and 1917 in Chicago, when there was an incident that followed that pattern. He noted the ones in '43, 1935. And he just - he mentioned all - saw that pattern repeated itself.

What we need now is for bodies like Congress to take action. The Justice - the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would be great to pass that. But then there's state legislatures that are looking at pieces of legislation. Some have done a little. They all need, I think, to do more. But that also includes municipalities and counties and departments and cities. We need to act to make sure that every American feels, though, that they're going to be treated with respect and dignity by the people who are devoted to protecting and serving them.

And by the way, police officers, many of them agree wholeheartedly with this. Our own chief took the stand to condemn and say that what Derek Chauvin did was not acceptable policing and was not reflective of the values of the Minneapolis Police Department. But also 14 rank-and-file officers wrote an open letter saying that we condemn this. This is not what we believe policing should be. The longest serving police officer in the Minneapolis police department did the same thing.

KING: Last week - I want to ask you, you talked about congressional action, so let's talk about what that might look like. Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Congresswoman Karen Bass, a Democrat, along with Republican Senator Tim Scott and Democratic Senator Cory Booker, announced a bipartisan framework for police reform - their word. But we didn't get any specifics. What would need to be in a bill or in a law for it to break the cycle and action that you've spoken about?

ELLISON: Well, I've got to tell you. While I have been in touch with Karen Bass and, you know, she's a wonderful legislator, I can't tell you what the inner workings of their negotiations are. I can tell you that there are certain things that I think need to be...

KING: Yeah. What do you want to see in it?

ELLISON: ...In the bill. Well, first of all, I want to see a national registry so bad cops don't just go from department to department. I'd like to see limitations on qualified immunity so that there's some accountability and officers have skin in the game and they know that, you know - and the bad policing is not just going to be protected. I'd like to see, you know, a better standard for use of force so that it's not so enormously hard to prove these cases. So there's a number of things.

KING: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, thanks for sharing your perspective. We appreciate it.

ELLISON: Thank you.

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