KSTP sits down for a Q and A with legal expert Professor Mark Osler to discuss what comes next in the George Floyd case

Updated: June 02, 2020 10:22 PM
Created: June 02, 2020 08:29 PM

KSTP sat down for a one-on-one question and answer session with Professor Mark Osler of the University of St. Thomas. Osler is a former federal prosecutor whose areas of study are criminal law, clemency and sentencing guidelines among others. 

Q: The Governor is calling for a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, what's your reaction?


Osler: Yeah I think it's a great development, because one thing that everyone who watches that video thinks is where did that come from? Where did an officer come to think this was acceptable behavior? And that leads us to the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department. So in terms of digging into that, this is a good development. 

Q: Demonstrators have been asking for permanent change in the justice system. How is that going to happen? 

Osler: Yeah it's a tough thing. I mean you know, there was a federal mediation agreement between the federal government and the Minneapolis Police Department back in 2003. And of course, we've had commissions and boards and studies since then and still we are where we are. I think that protestors are right in their frustration. And what is needed here is something that's gonna go beyond what we've had before. That looks at training and deeply at hiring and residency; you know where do these officers live in the community that they work? And they're gonna have to bust through some barriers to do that. 

Q: How will state lawmakers be involved in this? 

Osler: Well immediately they won't be. The Human Rights Department will investigate and they have the ability to subpoena documents. Once their report is put together, lawmakers and the public will get involved. 

Q: How do we avoid this becoming a political dog and pony show and get real change?  

Osler: Yeah, one of the big challenges, whenever you're talking about reform, is who is going to claim it? Who is going to oppose it? And we're in a highly politicized era. But it's important to note something that is unusual about this place in time. And that is across this country criminal law reform has become a bipartisan issue. There are opportunities to cut across lines even locally...some of that comes from the power of that video.

Q: Is what we've seen in the past eight days since we've seen that video part of creating change?

Osler: Of course it is! You know we can't ignore the context under which this investigation is happening. You can read the protests and the actions in a number of different ways. But one thing that's inescapable about what we've seen on the streets is that people care deeply about this, it is something that matters that is not going to go away. And it has to be addressed in a substantive way.

Q: How fast will a civil rights investigation move forward?

Osler: Well it probably won't work as quickly as the criminal justice system has in, at least in charging Derek Chauvin. Because it's going to take awhile. They have to subpoena documents and as I mentioned before they're going to have to break through some significant barriers. If what they really want to get at is understanding the culture; who gets hired, how they are treated; not just how they're trained, but what they say in the locker room, they're going to have to dig pretty deeply and that doesn't happen quickly. We're not talking about a couple weeks. It's gonna take some time to do it right.

Q: MPD has a pretty strong union, what role will they play? 

Osler: The union doesn't have a, you know, they're not a party, directly to this charge. However, the role of the union has been a big part of the culture. And it's been a controversial part of the culture. And I certainly expect that that's part of what's going to be dealt with in this report. And if it's not part of what's dealt with in this report, then it's going to be the subject to criticism, and it should be.

Q: Do you have concerns about the speed of the investigation? 

Osler: In terms of the speed with which this has gone The one thing we have seen happen unusually quickly to a conclusion is the charge against Derek Chauvin. That's really the one thing that's happened that we can really look at. And that was justified I think to do that quickly. Because we didn't have the issue we usually do in these situations where there's a question of self-defense.  The video makes it clear this was not an action where self-defense was in play. At the moment, the last several minutes really leading up to the death. The other things; the potential charges against the other officers? Obviously they're still under consideration. With this investigation, it's gonna take some time. I expect that those things will work more quickly than they usually do because more resources are going to be thrown at them than we usually see. And that's appropriate, given how important this is.

Q: Can you explain to Joe and Jane and those at home watching, what is happening right now in Minnesota?

Osler: You know what's happening right now in Minnesota is we're having to look at something that's been hidden for a long time. That for a lot of us who are white we're having to see something that black people have had to deal with at several levels. It's uncomfortable, it's hard, but it's essential because, you know, we can't address it unless we see it. And if we don't address it we're going to be back in this same place and it's going to be bad for all of us. 

Osler: Lastly, I think it's important to recognize that in all of this it's a moral issue. And the discussion of this is going to operate at several levels. And I hope that we don't lose sight as we talk about the legalisms of what's right and wrong. That whether people are convicted or not, what do we teach our kids about this? How do we talk to one another? That's the culture that we're developing in this place and hopefully changing in this place. And that's equally important.

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