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Chauvin reverses decision, pleads guilty to violating George Floyd's civil rights

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The former police officer who murdered George Floyd pleaded guilty to violating his civil rights. Derek Chauvin has reversed an earlier not guilty plea. The agreement with federal prosecutors averts a trial which would have been something of a repeat of his criminal trial for pinning George Floyd to the ground until he was dead. Chauvin is currently serving more than 22 years for that. Minnesota state Attorney General Keith Ellison is on the line once again. Attorney General, welcome back.

KEITH ELLISON: Thank you, glad to be back.

INSKEEP: What is the significance of this plea, given that Chauvin is already in prison?

ELLISON: Well, this plea is for a violation of civil rights, and the federal government has jurisdiction over enforcement of criminal civil rights violations. George Floyd, his civil rights were violated when he was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis, and the federal government indicted Derek Chauvin for that, and Derek Chauvin has pled guilty to that.

INSKEEP: As I understand it, this might add a little bit to his sentence but not a lot. He's already in for at least 22 years and keeps the possibility that he might live to get out of prison. Does that seem right to you?

ELLISON: Well, you know, I don't know. I mean, when you consider that George Floyd will never be able to hug his family again, you know, it seems inadequate. But at the same time, no amount of time is going to bring George Floyd back. What we really need is a sentencing - a sentence that this kind of behavior simply is not going to be acceptable.

INSKEEP: You've also said this is an opportunity for a new beginning for equal justice under the law.

ELLISON: Right.

INSKEEP: Can you define that for us? What is the opportunity of this moment?

ELLISON: Well, the opportunity is for every police department, every prosecutor's office, every jurisdiction that has authority over policing can really say, look, you know, what are we doing here? What policies do we have in place that tend to build distrust, that have a tendency to allow officers with long, bad records to stay on the force? What can we do to change this dynamic, you know? We've seen all over the country, whether it's Tamir Rice or Eric Garner, that we've seen these situations blow up all over the country. And so we're at the point where we need change. And I'm hoping that jurisdictions all over the country will really begin to examine how we've been doing business so that we do not have these tragic incidents.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that in the minute or so we have left, Attorney General, because as you mentioned, there have been numerous incidents that have horrified the country, captured the attention of the country. But there's also been a lot of pushback on how to change or reform police departments in your state, of course. In Minneapolis, voters last year rejected a charter amendment to replace the police department with the Department of Public Safety. A lot of the defund the police rhetoric has proven very unpopular. Even the mayor of San Francisco this very week was talking about the BS - her word, she used the whole word - that has gotten in the way of fighting crime. Do you feel that there is a consensus on how policing should change?

ELLISON: Well, here's what I know - that if we keep on talking about it, we will arrive at the consensus that you're mentioning. We've got to stay in the conversation, and we've got to understand that, you know, look, we all want to be safe, but actually, police misconduct doesn't make us safe. In fact, it undermines safety because it undermines trust. And if you want to have a safer community, you've got to have a department where police and community have a respectful, trusting relationship. So I think that these things actually go together, and what we need is to continue the dialogue and not abandon it.

INSKEEP: Keith Ellison is the attorney general of Minnesota. Attorney General, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

ELLISON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.