Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is facing criticism for a curious distinction that he drew in a message to protesters about how they should treat the national guard versus the police. Ellison has been in a difficult spot over the rioting following the death of George Floyd in an arrest by the Minneapolis Police Department. I thought he did well in a recent interview in resisting pressure to declare the officers clearly guilty and cautioned that everyone should allow the system to work in the bringing of any criminal charges. On this occasion, however, he seemed to throw the police, including state police and other assisting jurisdictions, under the bus.
Ellison alluded to the same point that we discussed yesterday, in quoting Martin Luther King, on how rioting is the voice of the unheard. He told the public that this is how the “unheard get heard” and “Don’t just dismiss that and ignore it and relegate it to just criminality and bad behavior. Actually ask yourself what’s going on there.”
“I’d like everyone to recognize the fact that the National Guard just a week ago was administering COVID-19 tests to help people. The presence you see on the street, don’t react to them the way you might react to the Minneapolis Police Department. It’s not the same group. They have different leadership, different authority, and their job is to try to bring peace and calm back again. Please remember that this is not the group that you associate with unfair conduct.”
Given the attacks on police, that would seem a glaring distinction for officers trying to stop the looting and rioting. There are a variety of different police departments working together to protect the city, including a large contingent of state police. Moreover, the Attorney General of the state should be asking citizens to treat all officers with respect and consideration in “reacting to them.” All of the police, including the Minneapolis Police Department, has the “job … to try to bring peace and calm back.”
In fairness, Ellison did encourage everyone to protest “peacefully” in the press conference and his words supporting describing the good works routinely done by the Guard (including Covid testing) is well taken. However, the distinction with the local police was striking and, no doubt for many officers, chilling.
As a Chicagoan, I was reminded of the statement of Mayor Richard Daley during the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention when he declared
“The confrontation was not created by the police; the confrontation was created by the people who charged the police. Gentlemen, let’s get the thing straight, once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
That was a telling Freudian slip for Daley who encouraged the crackdown on protesters. This appears a distinction that Ellison was struggling to draw in how citizens should react to police as opposed to the Guard in the streets. With officers being injured across the city, it was the wrong distinction to make at the wrong time.