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D.C. Memo: Policing the police

This week in the memo: The feds probe Minneapolis police, Biden calls for a huge cut in greenhouse gas emissions and saying goodbye to a Minnesota political icon.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking about the jury's verdict in the case against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, at the Department of Justice on Wednesday.
Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a Justice Department investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of the conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. There has been a whirlwind of news coming out of both Minnesota and Washington recently, so we have much to discuss today. This week in the memo: The feds probe Minneapolis police, Biden calls for a huge cut in greenhouse gas emissions and saying goodbye to a Minnesota political icon.

Federal probe into Minneapolis policing standards

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a sweeping Justice Department probe into the practices and culture of the Minneapolis Police Department Wednesday, a day after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.

Garland said the investigation will assess whether MPD engages in discriminatory conduct, and whether its treatment of those with behavioral or mental health disabilities is unlawful. He said that “justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive and sometimes never comes. The DOJ will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under the law.”

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This marks the first federal probe into a local police department under the Biden administration (the Trump administration halted any new investigations, saying they would undermine the morale and effectiveness of police). Under the Obama administration, the DOJ launched federal investigations after civil unrest due to Black people being killed by police or dying in police custody in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri.

“Nothing can fill the void the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death,” Garland said during his remarks at the Justice Department headquarters. “My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss.”

The climate on Zoom

President Joe Biden kicked off a virtual climate summit for 40 world leaders Thursday, where the U.S. is committing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. This is a much more ambitious goal than what former president Barack Obama proposed five years ago.

The White House says that the U.S. can meet this lofty goal even if Congress rejects Biden’s call for green infrastructure spending. Environmental groups have argued that emissions cuts of 50 percent by 2030 are achievable, but most groups call for congressional action to help speed up the adoption process for clean energy.

Biden’s new emissions plan is a stark shift from the previous administration which saw  former President Donald Trump pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Blocked investigations into handling of last year’s protests

The Secret Service’s chief federal watchdog blocked investigations last year that were meant to look into the agency’s handling of the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Square and the spread of the coronavirus in its ranks, according to the Washington Post.

On June 1, 2020, Lafayette Square — a green space directly north of the White House — was forcibly cleared of protesters, after which the Secret Service moved Trump to a church at the edge of the park for a staged photo op. A group of largely peaceful protesters were hit with pepper spray in order to clear a path for Trump to get to the church.

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Joseph Cuffari, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, allegedly rejected his staff’s recommendation to investigate what role the Secret Service played in clearing the protesters.

Cuffari also allegedly sought to limit a probe into whether the Secret Service ignored federal protocols put in place to detect and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within its workforce. “Hundreds of Secret Service officers were either infected with the coronavirus or had to quarantine after potential exposure last year as Trump continued to travel and hold campaign events during the pandemic,” writes Carol D. Leonnig for the Washington Post.

Russia hack clap back

President Biden may not have said those exact words, but that’s what he wants for Russia — last Thursday, Biden imposed extensive new sanctions on Russia and “formally blamed the country’s premier intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies and the nation’s largest companies,” according to The New York Times.

Biden’s announcement included sanctions on 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats were expelled from the Russian Embassy in D.C., and American banks were banned from purchasing newly issued Russian government debt, according to the Times.

“I chose to be proportionate,” Biden said in comments at the White House. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.” Biden said he offered to meet with Vladimir Putin in person this summer in Europe.

Biden may see this as a proportionate response, but past rounds of sanctions — after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its efforts to influence the 2016 election and its poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain — have all failed to prevent Russians from continuing to interfere in the U.S.

Saying goodbye to Walter Mondale

Walter Mondale, former vice president under Jimmy Carter from small-town Minnesota, died Monday night at age 93. In a statement Monday night, Carter said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history.” He added: “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”

Mondale tried for the White House himself in 1984, selecting Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate making him the first major-party presidential nominee to put a woman on the ticket, but he couldn’t overcome Ronald Reagan’s national popularity.

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Sen. Tina Smith wrote about Mondale on Twitter: “I loved Walter Mondale and I’m not the only one. Mondale was a giant not only because of the positions he held—Minnesota Attorney General, U.S. Senator, Vice President, Democratic Presidential candidate and Ambassador—but because of the work that he did…He was also a true friend, full of lively questions, incisive and hysterically funny commentary, advice offered with his unique dry wit, birthdays remembered and lunches shared, preferably with onion rings.”

In a statement, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said: “Walter Mondale taught me that leadership isn’t all about giving soaring speeches and punchy sound bites — but actually getting things done for people. He always saw his responsibility as an elected leader as bigger than the immediate challenge at any given moment. His broader mission was helping to prepare a new generation of leaders for the next big decision that needed to be made… Walter Mondale set a high bar for himself, and for his entire life he kept passing it and raising it, passing it and raising it. Our world would be a better place if all followed his example, and he will be sorely, sorely missed.”

In his statement on Mondale’s passing, President Joe Biden paid tribute to his legacy. “When President Obama asked me to consider being his Vice President, Fritz was my first call and trusted guide. He not only took my call, he wrote me a memo. It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.”

‘We don’t have enough housing’

Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced the Housing Supply and Affordability Act, a program geared toward helping localities “develop and implement comprehensive housing policy plans” with the goal of increasing housing supply and affordability.

“We don’t have enough housing,” Sen. Klobuchar told Vox this week. “Literally every mayor, Democrat of Republican, brought it up to me last week. Of course we’re talking about vaccinations and restaurants closing, but they want to keep workers and they need housing to do it.”

For context, Minnesota’s “housing scorecard” released in March found a growing shortage of affordable housing and racial disparities in homeownership rates. The report found that Minnesota ranks among the worst in the nation for BIPOC homeownership, which was “exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19 and economic instability.”

D.C. reacts to Chauvin verdict

After Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts, Washingtonians reacted across a city peppered with 250 National Guard troops and city police. Instead of the mass protests people were prepping for if Chauvin was found not guilty, the verdict provided brief, quiet relief for some. Many District residents called for action against police violence as the Chauvin verdict came in the wake of the shootings of two men by an off-duty Pentagon cop earlier this month.

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Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, published a heart-wrenching essay in the Washington Post Wednesday titled: “For my brother George Floyd, this is what justice feels like.” Floyd wrote about the feelings that hit him and his family when they heard the guilty verdict Tuesday.

“This is what justice feels like: gut-wrenching relief, exhaustion. It’s not sweet or satisfying. It’s necessary, important, maybe even historic. But only with the passage of time will we know if the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin is the start of something that will truly change America and the experience of Black Americans.”

What I’m reading

  • Minnesota Values White Comfort More than Black Lives, New York Times. This touching opinion piece is by Justin Ellis, a Minneapolis native who is writing a book about how Black families in his hometown endure the racism they experience. “The ubiquitous yard signs saying, ‘All Are Welcome Here,’ ‘Love Is Love’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ don’t change the fact that sections of this city have been hiding behind barriers for a long time, since before the trial started, before Mr. Floyd was killed, and before Mr. Wright was gunned down,” Ellis writes.
  • ‘We can’t protect them’: Mothers on what it means to have Black children in America, The 19th*. This article explores the pain and fear that mothers of Black children in America experience, tying in research that suggests police brutality is a reproductive rights issue. Rachel Hardeman, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, is quoted in this article for her work assessing the connection between racialized police violence and poor health outcomes among Black people. This month, Hardeman launched a five-year study to investigate the relationship between police violence and maternal and infant health in the Black community.
  • There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, New York Times. I’ve heard from so many friends and peers that in the last year of pandemic-induced work from home, they’ve lost motivation and have had trouble concentrating. I’ve felt this way myself sometimes, and maybe you have, too. Languishing, according to this NYT article, is a sense of stagnation and emptiness, and for many of us, it might be the dominant emotion of 2021. In addition to naming this feeling, the article also provides some ways to combat it.

That’s it from me this week. If you can’t get enough of the D.C. memo, I’ll have more to discuss with Sen. Amy Klobuchar next month: On May 4, join me in conversation with our senior senator on her new book “Antitrust,” which looks at the history of monopolies in America, as well as the current dynamics shaping proposed legislation in Congress and other topics in the news.

As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or advice on how you’ve combatted any personal “languishing” during the pandemic to ahackett@minnpost.com. You can also reach me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.