Minneapolis’ wounds are far from healed.
TJ Johnson, a 40-year South Minneapolis resident, says he is applying for a gun license, having long since given up on police keeping him safe.
Veterans at the city’s police department, which has lost more than 300 officers, say they are running on fumes, tired of patrolling under a cloud of suspicion.
Elected officials are looking for glimmers of optimism.
Three years after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a Justice Department report released Friday concluded that the city’s Police Department was plagued by illegal conduct, discrimination and mismanagement. In a way, it was meant to be a response to the death of Mr. Floyd and years of complaints against the police in this city of 425,000. But the devastating report seemed to bring little closure to Minneapolis, where many remain traumatized and torn by mistrust.
The report — which found that Minneapolis police officers for years used excessive force, disproportionately targeted Black and Native American residents, and cracked down on the rights of protesters and journalists — likely landed differently in different parts of the city, said Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat who has lived in Minneapolis since 1984.
« There are probably a lot of people reading this report, especially people who live in Black and Brown communities, who are like, ‘This is terrible, but this is nothing new to me,' » she said. « I think there are also probably people who live in the more affluent parts of the city who might be surprised to see how pervasive the violations have been. »
Mr. Johnson, a South Minneapolis resident, said his brother has spent his career working for the Chicago Police Department, so his views on the police are nuanced.
But Mr Johnson said his faith in the Minneapolis police was irrevocably shaken after viewing footage of Mr Floyd’s death, images that sparked nationwide outrage and protests in the spring of 2020. The video showed Mr Floyd, a black man, gasping for breath as Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine-and-a-half minutes as colleagues stood by. Mr. Johnson, who, like 18 percent of Minneapolis residents, is black, said he concluded that the city’s police department is beyond repair.
« I stay away from them as much as I can, » said Mr Johnson, 63, who runs an electronics recycling business and has attended the same church for 28 years. « White men and women, they don’t worry like we do. »
Mr. Johnson said he inherited a gun after his brother’s death and recently filed for a firearms permit. For him, he said, this has been the best safety measure in Minneapolis, a city where auto thefts and car thefts have been a major concern and where he is concerned about interactions with the police.
« I intend to never go out without my gun again, » he said.
Many Minneapolis police officers saw the report as a searing indictment dealing yet another blow to a department beset by low morale and understaffing. The officers’ union, the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, said in a statement that the federal report had glossed over vital and heroic work.
« The report will simply be used by those inclined to have an anti-police bias to justify their beliefs, while those more pro-police will question the report’s findings, » the union said. « As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between. »
In interviews, longtime police officers said they welcomed calls for radical changes in training and accountability. But they also said many of the most egregious incidents in the report involved officers leaving the force, including Mr Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Mr Floyd.
« Cops are tired of being called racists, » said Sgt. Andrew Schroeder, who works in the department’s firearms unit and has been an officer in Minneapolis since 2014. “The cops who are still here in the department are good officers, they want to do a good job, and they legitimately want to improve the community. «
Sergeant Schroeder said the officers « don’t focus on the color, » observing it city statistics since 2022 show that the vast majority of gunshot victims in Minneapolis are black men, as are the shooting suspects in cases where police are given descriptions. « We focus on crime. »
Mook Thomas, 27, sees things differently. Soon after moving to the north side of Minneapolis in December 2022 with her husband and five young children, she first encountered officers one night around midnight as her husband was driving home. She said they spotted a police car behind them on West Broadway Avenue, a major thoroughfare, and were eventually stopped. She was told they had been stopped for a broken headlight, she told her, although she said both headlights worked.
« He’s harassing us, telling us we don’t belong here, » said Ms Thomas, who is black and said the officer used racial slurs.
Subsequently, Ms. Thomas said she decided to avoid Minneapolis police officers. She wouldn’t have called them, she said, even if her life was in danger. If they ever try to drag her again, she said, « I’d like to move on. »
Ms. Thomas said she has never seen a black police officer in her part of town, where many residents are African American.
The burden of rebuilding trust with people like Ms. Thomas will fall heavily on Cmdr. Yolanda Wilks, one of six black officers in the Minneapolis Police Department. She was recently charged with overseeing sweeping changes the city agreed to make as part of a court-ordered settlement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Following the release of the Justice Department’s report, the city and the federal government began negotiating a court-mandated overhaul of policies and procedures, similar to one already underway with the state.
In an interview, Commander Wilks acknowledged that rebuilding trust and resolving long-standing institutional problems will take years. But he said he hopes residents also recognize how difficult the past few years have been for the officers who remain on duty.
“We forget that there are big-hearted, passionate human beings who work every day for the community they’re signed up to serve,” he said.
Commander Wilks herself said she came close to stepping down in the tumultuous and painful days following Mr. Floyd’s death. She stayed, she said, because she had a feeling the city could bounce back.
« It’ll take a while, » he said. « An open wound takes time internally to heal. »