A report by Minnesota Senate Republicans three weeks before the election argues that DFL Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey failed to do enough to quell the days of looting and arson that followed the police killing of George Floyd.
The 61-page report, compiled after a series of summer hearings on the topic, blames what Republicans have long argued was an apparent lack of understanding of the quickly escalating situation and a hesitation to deploy additional law enforcement to end the violence and destruction in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The report follows months of criticism by President Donald Trump and state Republicans, who have turned the civil unrest that followed Floyd’s death into a campaign theme emphasizing law and order and support for police.
Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis sparked widespread protests against police brutality and racism across the globe. In the Twin Cities, more than 1,500 properties, including the Third Precinct police building in south Minneapolis, were damaged or destroyed over several days. Some were looted on multiple nights.
“One central theme emerged fairly quickly during our hours of testimony: the governor’s slow decisionmaking caused the riots to be far, far worse than they should have been,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, Transportation Committee chairman, who co-authored the report.
Senate Democrats described the report as a political document that they were given little time to review. A statement by state Sens. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also accused Republicans of overlooking the underlying causes of the disturbances.
“They completely failed to acknowledge what caused the unrest in the first place, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers,” they said. “They fail to face the issues of structural racism, racial injustice, and lack of police accountability reforms in the Senate.”
Newman said he plans to convene another public hearing of the joint committee so members from both parties can weigh in on the report. He insisted that “the purpose of the report was not political.”
Walz still questioned the timing of the report and defended his administration’s response to the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
“I know that getting close to an election they need to do that,” he said. “I would just ask them to work with us on this. Let’s say we all agree on this, for public safety, and I think the mayor and I certainly believe our administration … whether it be the National Guard, the State Patrol or the DNR [Department of Natural Resources] our front line folks responded in a noble and heroic manner. They saved lives.”
“A one-sided report coming out right before an election isn’t as helpful,” said Walz, a 24-year veteran of the National Guard. “But if there is helpful advice in there, I’ll certainly take it.”
Walz and other top leaders have previously defended their decisions, saying they did the best they could to respond to a complex and fast-changing situation. State and local officials have also sparred over who was to blame for communication problems related to mobilizing the National Guard.
The administration has said the response was the fastest and largest National Guard deployment in state history. But the state is commissioning its own independent external review analyzing the unrest and the administration’s response.
The GOP report, signed by Newman and Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, identifies what Republicans say are a number of lapses with the state and local response. The authors argue that Walz’s team “failed to distinguish between demonstrators and rioters” and that city and state leaders did not act decisively enough.
The report, based on public hearings, news coverage and social media posts, argues that officials should have increased the law enforcement and National Guard presence sooner and authorized the use of additional nonlethal forces. It rejects concerns expressed at the time that a bigger law enforcement presence could actually inflame tensions and make the situation worse.
“Governor Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey initially chose to negotiate with and appease the rioters rather than give law enforcement the authority to confront criminal acts with enough force to restore law and order,” the senators wrote. “Inaction on the part of state and local officials led to an increase in violence.”
The report does not mention Derek Chauvin, the officer filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck before he died, or the history of questions surrounding the Minneapolis Police Department that many activists and outside experts say fueled distrust and frustration in the community after the video of the incident went viral. It also does not address the role social media might have played in spreading confusion and disinformation during the unrest.
Senate Republicans included a number of recommendations for dealing with future disturbances, including developing a comprehensive state plan to address rioting, prosecuting those who “commit criminal acts under the guise of social protest” and facilitating a “frank and open conversation about social injustice.”
“It is unlikely that the 2020 Minnesota riots are the last episodes of lawlessness the state will experience,” the senators wrote. “With the nation deeply divided by political, economic, and social tensions, even a small incident could spark a new wave of lawlessness. The time to begin preparing for ‘next time’ is now.”
The report was based on hearings conducted by the Senate’s Republican majority. At the time, Democrats criticized their GOP colleagues for politicizing the unrest instead of focusing on rebuilding or addressing police brutality and racism.
The release of the report, 21 days before the Nov. 3 election, comes as both sides escalate messaging wars in the fight for control of the Legislature.
Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.