MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The city of Minneapolis announced a $27 million settlement with the family of George Floyd on Friday, just weeks before the officer charged with killing him is scheduled to go on trial.
The Minneapolis City Council approved the settlement in a closed session early Friday afternoon, resolving a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Floyd’s family against the city and former police officer Derek Chauvin in July 2020.
The settlement is the largest in the city's history by a $7 million margin, beating out a $20 million settlement reached in 2019 for the 2017 police killing of Justine Damond.
Attorneys for the Floyd family celebrated the settlement in a somber joint press conference late Friday afternoon with members of the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump led the press conference. He and attorney Chris Stuart emphasized that the massive sum represented not just a cudgel against police violence but a higher valuation for Black lives.
Crump also announced that $500,000 would go toward improvement of the neighborhood surrounding 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, where Floyd was arrested and died on May 25, 2020. Crump said that both the family and city leaders hoped the area, which currently is closed to traffic and occupied by activists under the name George Floyd Square, would be the site of a memorial to Floyd. The half million dollars, he said, would go toward supporting Black businesses and community organizations in the area.
“When people come to 38th and Chicago, they will witness a marker of a turning point in civil rights. They will learn more about Black history. They will support the thriving Black businesses that were able to survive not only Covid, but this terrible tragedy where George Floyd was killed, and they will be able to celebrate Black culture,” Crump said. “This is our vision united – the family, and the city leadership.”
Members of Floyd’s family were brief at the conference, many choking back tears. All thanked city officials and their attorneys, and many added protesters to that list.
“On the front lines, or on the couch, it doesn’t matter. Your heart was in a good place,” Floyd’s brother Philonese Floyd said to Black Lives Matter protesters. “And I want to thank everyone for that. Thank you so much. May George live in power.”
Chauvin faces second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death, which sent protests and civil unrest rippling around the nation and world throughout the summer of 2020. A widely circulated video showed Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd for several minutes while Floyd cried that he could not breathe and eventually fell silent. Floyd was eventually taken away from the scene by paramedics and died.
Minneapolis was the epicenter of the summer’s civil unrest, and protests and property damage calmed down only after a veto-proof majority of the City Council announced their intention to “begin the process of ending” the Minneapolis Police Department.
Those plans have been stymied by public outcry and procedural issues, with some council members defecting from that coalition and the unelected Minneapolis Charter Commission voting to effectively table the issue until later this year.
At the press conference Friday, Frey and the Floyd family’s attorneys both emphasized the changes they said needed to be made to policing in the city and across the country. High among both sides’ priorities was the difficulty of disciplining officers for excessive force. Both cited police unions and the arbitration process as the chief bugbear in that process.
“We want to be working to ensure that this arbitration process, these union contracts that have become an absolute python grip on the police department… I don’t want to break unions, but you’ve got to give the power to where it belongs. You’ve got to give the power to those police chiefs to conduct discipline,” family attorney Tony Romanucci said.
They also called for passage of the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds and many no-knock warrants nationwide. The bill passed the House last week and is awaiting approval from the Senate before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk. The president has promised to sign it.
Minneapolis did manage to ban chokeholds in an advance agreement with state human rights officials, who are investigating its police department for civil rights abuses against residents of color. Democratic Governor Tim Walz also signed a bill banning chokeholds, mandating a handful of trainings for officers, and imposing a duty to report and intervene in excessive-force incidents.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has said that Chauvin’s chokehold was outside the scope of department policy. Minneapolis police have, however, rendered people unconscious with chokeholds 44 times since 2015, according to an NBC News report, and used neck restraints at least 237 times.
Jury selection in Chauvin’s criminal trial began on Tuesday. Opening statements are set for March 29. Six jurors have been selected so far out of nearly 50 considered, and Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill called a second set of 50 prospective jurors for consideration on Friday.
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