The world’s eyes have been glued to Minneapolis for the past few weeks after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and the ensuing protests nationwide.
That includes Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, who dedicated Sunday's entire show to an explanation of the failures of policing in the United States, with Minneapolis the prime example.
Touchstones included the killing of Floyd, plus a few choice soundbites from police union leader Bob Kroll.
“I honestly don’t know what’s more alarming, there,” Oliver said of Kroll. “His determination to train police officers to be predators, his air of casual impunity, or the fact that he has this sign in his office that says ‘Let me drop everything and work on your problem,’ which is always the office decor choice of a grade-A asshole.”
Locals didn’t need John Oliver to tell us that. There are entire slam poems written about it.
Another highlight included a little incident some of you might remember from the 2018 holiday season.
That was when photos of a Christmas tree put up in the city’s Fourth Precinct went viral for the worst, most predictable reason. Its trees were decked with shiny ornaments and lights, plus a bunch of racist tropes: a Takis bag, an empty Popeye’s cup, menthol cigarettes, and crumpled cans of malt liquor.
Oliver reacted the way a lot of folks did.
“Holy shit,” he said. “That is not just disgusting, it’s also arguably the most racist thing to happen to Christmas since people decided that this child [Jesus] born in the Middle East was white.”
At the time the story broke, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called the display “racist” and “despicable,” and promised the “offending party” would be fired before the end of the day.
As you may also recall, they weren’t. In fact, it wasn’t until August 2019 that the officers involved --Mark Bohnsack and Brandy Steberg -- were finally fired after being put on paid leave. Kroll vowed that the union would appeal. To this day, Oliver said, one of those cases has yet to be resolved.
We can confirm that much, thanks to a brief assent from a Minneapolis spokesperson. There is an “active grievance” still being handled regarding the racist Christmas tree of 2018. The spokesperson declined to give more detail on which officer it was or when we could expect a resolution.
As Oliver pointed out, we should absolutely expect unions to protect workers. That’s why they exist. But police unions, he said, take that to a “dangerous extreme,” where taking any officer to task for bad behavior becomes incredibly difficult.
The MPD is currently facing an investigation from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, lawsuits from civilians and journalists, and discussions of disbanding the department from City Council members. Once John Oliver and the world move on to other things, it will be up to Minneapolis to keep paying attention.