A man holds a sign at George Floyd Square, April 21, 2021, in Minneapolis, a day after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts for the 2020 death of Floyd.

Despite Chauvin verdict, ACLU says the US still needs international accountability

Law enforcement agencies across the US and in Minneapolis ramped up their forces in anticipation of the Derek Chauvin verdict. Advocates say that decision, in and of itself, shows that the US can’t solve its police brutality problems on its own, and needs international oversight.

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The guilty charges for former police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd show police are held accountable, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said Wednesday.

“Nobody is above the law,” he emphasized.

Hopefully, now everyone can heal, Hutchinson said, adding that officers are stressed and tired after a monthslong effort called Operation Safety Net. It brought the National Guard and many state and local entities together to ensure public safety during the Chauvin trial.

“Operation Safety Net is not about arresting people.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo

“Operation Safety Net is not about arresting people,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Monday, before the verdict, while faith leaders and community groups like the local NAACP stood behind him. “We know that we have a city that is mourning, that they're in grief. The last thing we want to do is turn this into an enforcement situation.”

But that’s not how it’s felt to many residents who’ve seen downtown Minneapolis transformed by troops, razor wire and barriers. In Minneapolis, Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, or RISE, is one of 75 organizations that petitioned Gov. Tim Walz to end Operation Safety Net.

Related: 'It’s hard to have hope when you haven't had time to breathe,’ says Liberian American activist on Chauvin verdict

“It's a lot of different agencies to make this decision to say, ‘Police killed someone. Let's bring in thousands more. Let's bring in so many that, you know, you can't even walk across the street without interacting with them,’” said Asma Mohammed of RISE. “That's terrifying that that's the response coming from our government.”

She said it creates more opportunities for bad interactions between civilians and police. The American Civil Liberties Union is worried about that, too. Despite a newly announced investigation by the US Department of Justice into Minneapolis police, and a push by President Joe Biden for congressional action, the ACLU’s human rights program director, Jamil Dakwar, said the United Nations needs to hold the US accountable for true change.

“Without this process, without learning from other international examples, the United States will continue to make the same atrocities with no accountability whatsoever.”

Jamil Dakwar, ACLU human rights program director

“Without this process, without learning from other international examples, the United States will continue to make the same atrocities with no accountability whatsoever,” he said.

Dakwar said the ACLU is also concerned because of the increase in hate crimes over the last few years; the raft of states considering laws that would restrict the right to protest; and the presence of white supremacists within law enforcement agencies — made apparent by the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Related: Brooklyn Center mayor on Chauvin trial: Black people can no longer tolerate ‘a state of terror’

“We continue to call for more investigation into the relationship between police departments and these white nationalist organizations and to what extent they contribute to police violence against particularly, communities of color,” Dakwar said, adding that next month he and others will again ask the United Nations for an independent investigation into police brutality in the US.

Last year, George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd personally appealed to the UN for such an investigation, but the Trump administration lobbied to expand the probe so it wouldn’t just focus on the US. Dakwar said if the Biden administration really supports change, it will welcome international oversight.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, as Operation Safety Net ramps down, officials say they’re not not sending everyone home, in case something happens between now and August. That’s when they’ll mobilize again — three other officers involved in George Floyd’s death go on trial, together, starting on Aug. 23.

Many residents say the constant increased presence of law enforcement is triggering for local communities who’ve been living for months in an emotionally fraught atmosphere, according to Mohammed. There have been raw conversations with neighbors and bitter callouts on social media, all while under an international spotlight, she added.

For many African Americans, like St. Paul resident Genesia Williams, the events have resurfaced some traumatic memories. She said she keeps remembering the first time she saw an officer kneel on someone’s neck. The victim was a girl — a fellow student in school, in Minneapolis.

Related: Ex-cop Derek Chauvin convicted of murder and manslaughter in George Floyd death that stirred worldwide protests

“I remember the sound when she hit the ground,” Williams said. “And of course, she's screaming and crying, ‘Get off of me. Leave me alone.’ And then, all of a sudden, she was quiet.”

The increased police presence has also been unnerving to another group in the state: refugees and immigrants. Many say they fear police on multiple levels, from experiences in their home countries to post-9/11 FBI surveillance programs of Muslims.

Minneapolis resident Yusuf Abdulle said he recently refused to stop, initially, when police tried to pull him over for a broken tail light.

“I didn't actually run and go fast, but I didn't stop.”

Yusuf Abdulle, Minneapolis resident

“I didn't actually run and go fast, but I didn't stop,” he said.

He put on his hazard lights and drove to a more populated area where he thought there would be cameras.

“I was scared,” Abdulle said.

So, the massive law enforcement presence for the Chauvin trial has made him uncomfortable.

Related: Police reform requires culture change, not just diversity, advocates say

“On the highways, going to work, going home, armored cars everywhere,” Abdulle said.

And all this happened during the holy month of Ramadan. Community leaders had mounted a vaccination drive so people could get together for the holiday. But then, officials announced a curfew.

“To start a curfew on the first night of Ramadan, I mean, ridiculous,” said Mohammed, of RISE. Officials made an exception for people going to mosques but Mohammed said no one wanted to risk getting stopped by police.

“One thing that I kept worrying about is that they would retaliate because they're like, ‘One of our own is being finally punished,’” she said. “And I think that that fear is very real. I believe it, 100%.”

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