Four weeks after George Floyd’s death, an embattled police union finally speaks out

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In an interview Monday with CNN, union officials said they are being unfairly vilified by critics of the Minneapolis police department, and blasted local elected officials who have called for major reform of the department, even as union representatives offered little by way of specific policing reforms they would be willing to support.

“We have become scapegoats in this,” said Bob Kroll, police union president, adding, “the people to blame lays squarely (sic) on the shoulders of our political leadership.”

Minneapolis became a flashpoint for criminal justice reform advocates after Floyd was killed during an encounter with at least four of the city’s police officers. In eyewitness video footage of the incident, former officer Derek Chauvin was seen pressing his knee to the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd lost consciousness.
Officer in George Floyd's death under review by state police conduct board

Chauvin was charged by prosecutors with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Asked by CNN about what went through his mind as he watched the video of Floyd being killed, police union representative Rich Walker said he was “horrified.”

“I don’t know what was going through Officer Chauvin’s mind, but I can say that I don’t agree with how it ended,” said Walker. “And to this day I still believe that Mr. Floyd should still be here.”

Those comments were echoed by Kroll; however, he stopped short of indicating what he thinks should happen to Chauvin — instead insisting that he did not want to pass judgment on the former officer.

“There was a firefighter at the scene saying, you know, ‘check him, check him’. The light should have went (sic) off to do that, but we’re not going to pass judgment,” Kroll said. “The justice system is going to prevail.”

Blasting city leadership

In attempting to defend Minneapolis police officers from what they view as unfair criticism, union officials took aim at the city’s mayor and members of the city council who have recently called for the restructuring of the police department.

Union representatives also criticized Minneapolis police department leadership over their decision to allow rioters to set fire to the city’s 3rd police precinct building without a show of force by officers to protect the building.

Sgt. Anna Hedberg, a director at the union, said there were officers scrambling to get their belongings out of the 3rd precinct before it fell. “That’s just … that was one of the hardest things to ever watch in my career,” Hedberg said.

“To watch 54 cops that shouldn’t have been there get chased down the street because the failed politicians allowed them to be there, knowing full well that they weren’t going to send the resources,” she said.

While police union leaders had no shortage of complaints against politicians who have been vocal in calling for policing reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death, union leaders were unwilling to outline any specific proposals they would currently be willing to support.

Corrections officers say they were barred from Derek Chauvin's floor because of their skin color
After the killing of Floyd, the Minnesota governor called a special session of the state’s legislature in hopes of pressing forward on a package of possible reforms, including reducing police violence, and efforts geared towards ensuring greater police accountability and transparency. Those efforts appeared to stall as the special session came to a close late last week with numerous reform bills still pending.

Asked repeatedly by CNN what pieces of legislation they would support, Minneapolis police union officials said they had not yet had time to read the multiple bills put before the state’s legislative bodies, and warned that hastily rushing through policing reform measures could have unintended consequences.

“We need time,” said Kroll, adding, “everybody’s got to take a breath.”

A controversial president

Even before the police encounter that resulted in the death of George Floyd, union president Bob Kroll found himself in the national spotlight for both controversial public statements and for actively engaging in partisan campaigning for President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Minneapolis Police Union head Bob Kroll on stage during a campaign rally at the Target Center on October 10, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 2016, Kroll referred to Black Lives Matter — the diffuse group now responsible for organizing many of the primarily peaceful protests against police violence across the country — as a “terrorist organization,” and said he did not see BLM as “a voice for the black community in Minneapolis.”

Asked by CNN whether he stood by those comments, Kroll doubled down, saying he equates parts of the Black Lives Matter movement with domestic terrorism.

Kroll also defended his attendance on stage at a 2019 Trump campaign rally in Minnesota, saying he and his colleagues were unhappy with a statement at the time by the city’s mayor indicating Trump was not welcome in the city.

“The Obama administration and the handcuffing and oppression of police was despicable,” Kroll said as he stood next to the President wearing a ‘Cops for Trump’ shirt. “The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around,” he added.

In 2007, Kroll was named in a racial discrimination lawsuit from five Minneapolis African American officers, in which they allege Kroll referred to then-US Rep. Keith Ellison as a “terrorist.” Ellison, who is now Minnesota’s attorney general, is a Black Muslim — and has promised to “hold everyone accountable” in the Floyd case.

The same lawsuit also accused Kroll of wearing a motorcycle jacket with “white power” written on it. Kroll denied the allegations and the lawsuit was settled for $740,000.

In 2004, Kroll was named in another lawsuit for excessive use of force against a man who allegedly brushed against his car. Kroll and another officer, who were both off-duty, allegedly shoved and kicked the man to the ground. Kroll denied any wrongdoing.

A 2015 review of Kroll’s 26 years on the force by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found 20 internal affairs complaints against him, all but three closed without any disciplinary action having been taken.

Multiple investigations

While union officials continue to defend their department’s credibility following Floyd’s death and the criminal charging of four of the city’s police officers, scrutiny of the embattled department is likely to continue on multiple fronts.

In addition to the state’s criminal investigation of Floyd’s death, the FBI is actively pursuing a concurrent civil rights investigation of the incident. Furthermore, the Minnesota department of human rights continues to investigate whether there is a pattern of police officers in Minneapolis unfairly discriminating against people of color.

Still, union officials say none of the recent events, nor the litany of investigations of the department should result in broad-brushing the city’s police officers.

“We need people to quit categorizing police and the police profession as these violent racists and quit demonizing police for what they do,” said Sherral Schmidt, union vice-president, to who again put the onus on politicians, adding the city’s elected officials should “spend more time looking at ways to get the community and the police engaged together so that we can move forward to developing safer communities for the people of Minneapolis.”

Read more at CNN.com

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