Minnesota Senate Republicans on Thursday announced plans to hold oversight hearings on the state and local response to unrest and rioting that rocked the Twin Cities in the days following George Floyd’s death.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the hearings, set to begin July 1, will focus on the looting and fires that damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 structures across the Twin Cities, including Minneapolis’ Third Police Precinct.
The events leading up to the June 10 toppling of a Christopher Columbus statue on the State Capitol grounds will also be subject to review.
“This wasn’t just about bricks and mortar. People’s lives were at risk and crowds were unchecked,” the East Gull Lake Republican said. “Who was responsible for allowing the risk to the public?”
The plan drew backlash from legislative Democrats, who accused Republicans of prioritizing the oversight hearings over addressing racial disparities and police reform. A spokeswoman for the Senate DFL Caucus said members were not consulted about the committee’s creation.
“I am deeply disturbed by Senate Republicans’ complete lack of urgency to protect the black lives that are at risk of being killed at the hands of police officers,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis Democrat who represents the neighborhood where Floyd was killed. “After we saw the murder of George Floyd, the entire state and nation spoke out. They still aren’t listening to the demands for change within our criminal justice system.”
The announcement and response follows escalating partisan tensions over calls to address concerns about police brutality and structural racism, brought to the forefront by Floyd’s killing by police.
Efforts to reach agreement on law enforcement accountability measures and economic relief for damaged Twin Cities businesses during a special session collapsed early Saturday, after the Senate moved to adjourn amid a stalemate with Gov. Tim Walz and the DFL-led House.
Democrats blasted GOP legislators for not going far enough in their proposals and ending the special session prematurely. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have increased attacks on Democratic leaders’ proposals and handling of the protests and riots.
Gazelka revived those criticisms Thursday, saying constituents in his rural Minnesota district are alarmed by what they see as “mob lawlessness” by those who pulled down the statue and “very concerned Minneapolis and St. Paul will then be asked to be bailed out by the entire state.”
He said the goal of the oversight committee is to “document and ask the questions” about what happened and why before memories fade.
The panel will not investigate circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death or issues within the Minneapolis Police Department, matters Gazelka said could be left to state and law enforcement officials.
Democrats countered that overhaul of the criminal justice system should come first.
“There will be time to address the civil unrest that occurred in the days following George Floyd’s senseless killing, but the work to enact transformative, systemic changes within law enforcement is urgent,” members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus said in a statement. “Black, Indigenous, and communities of color can’t wait any longer for change.”
The oversight panel will be chaired by GOP Sen. Scott Newman, a transportation committee chair from the central Minnesota city of Hutchinson.