As the post-Floyd frenzy slows, the value of leadership has never been more clear

Monday 10/24/22 marked the end of criminal prosecution of the former police officers involved in George Floyd’s death.

As jury selection was about to begin in the state trial of J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, the state dropped the most serious charge of Aiding and Abetting 2nd Degree Murder, in exchange for Kueng’s guilty plea of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter. 

Thao agreed to a bench trial based on stipulated facts on the Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter charge and the state dropped the more serious Aiding and Abetting 2nd Degree Murder charge. 

Judge Cahill is left to decide on the guilt or innocence of Thao and pronounce sentencing on Kueng and Thao – both of whom will likely serve out those sentences concurrent with the federal sentences they are already serving. 

The rare application of the dual sovereignty doctrine which allowed for prosecution of the officers in both state and federal court, and the subsequent application of concurrent sentencing tends to confirm that political posturing had a larger role in these prosecutions than will ever be acknowledged.   

After nearly 3 years of ill-timed civil lawsuit settlements, human rights investigations, pending consent decrees looming over the Minneapolis Police Department, and multiple criminal prosecutions of the officers who dealt with Floyd, it is legitimate to question whether the response has been appropriate in scale and fairness.  I’d argue not, and suggest failed leadership is responsible.

Any in-custody death needs to be treated with the seriousness that will ensure a complete and impartial review, and a measured response that balances true justice against public emotion and inherent politics. 

Arguably, the response to Floyd’s death failed to do either.

In the frenetic atmosphere that existed in the weeks and months following Floyd’s death, there were virtually no public safety, justice system, or political leaders who dared stepping out of line to slow the snowball that was beginning to roll. 

Activists used Floyd’s death as “proof” there was systemic racism in policing, requiring “radical reform” to the profession.

Leadership sat paralyzed at the very time a calm, measured, and resolute response was needed the most.  The vacuum created by this lack of leadership allowed for the over prosecution of involved officers. It also emboldened activists to demonize policing and launch the defund/reform law enforcement campaign that has been devastating to our collective public safety.

Don’t be lulled into the belief that this activist movement ends with the police.  The same groups have made inroads into every area of criminal justice system leadership and the implications are equally devastating. 

Imran Ali, legal consultant to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), said it well in a statement following yesterday’s trial developments:

“We must also carefully reflect on the last several years.  During this time, we have seen an increase in violent crime, political leaders interfering in investigations and prosecutions, and due process not being applied equally in court to our men and women in law enforcement.  Our state leaders allowed activists with personal agendas to influence decisions in the courtroom and the alarming escalation through intimidation went unchecked.  We need leaders with the temerity to stand up and speak up when something is wrong, and the integrity to do what is right.” 

Thankfully support for law enforcement has remained strong throughout this ordeal.  MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters emphasized this point in a statement following the trial developments:

“During these difficult times, communities from all over the state have supported their local law enforcement agencies.  We want to take this time to thank you for your continued support, even when it wasn’t popular to do so.”

In the future, we must demand more of our public safety, criminal justice, and political leadership. We should expect our leaders to lead in times of crisis – not capitulate to activism which has sadly become the norm.