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Sen. Amy Klobuchar Discusses Her State's Response To George Floyd's Death

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is with us next. Before being elected to the Senate, she served as the prosecutor for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. Senator, welcome back to the program.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Steve. It's great to be on.

INSKEEP: How would you approach the case of the other three officers if you were still the prosecutor?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, let me say, it is really good that Keith Ellison has been brought in to lead this effort. He is the attorney general of Minnesota, longtime civil rights leader with a lot of support in our African American community and, really, across the country. And he is - I liked listening to your tape because he is forthrightly honest in his answer that he needs time to build the case on the other officers, that he's asking for patience to look at subsequent charges. And that's...

INSKEEP: And of course, he's also frank that he might...

KLOBUCHAR: ...Exactly what he said.

INSKEEP: He's also frank that he might not get a favorable jury in the end. But if - when you look at...

KLOBUCHAR: Well...

INSKEEP: ...What you know about this case, do you see room for charges against the other three?

KLOBUCHAR: I do because of the video, especially the second video that came out, where you saw them in a much more active role than you did in maybe one of the first videos that came out. And of course, the attorney general's office are - working with the county is going to have access to all videos, including the body cam videos, some of which we haven't seen. So that's what's going on right now. I cannot tell you how important it is to get justice for George Floyd and for his family. That's the No. 1 focus in our state right now.

And the second one is just the broader - and this really fits in with what Keith was saying in your interview - and that is that we need to make changes to the criminal justice system because systemic racism calls for systemic reform. And we've had, inch by inch...

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk - well...

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Go.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. If you don't mind, let's talk about that a little bit because Noel King, who's of course reporting from Minneapolis this week, spoke with your lieutenant governor, and she described a broader investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department. Here's some of what she had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PEGGY FLANAGAN: This investigation will look at the last 10 years of the Minneapolis Police Department so that people can feel safe in their communities and know that they are protected by law enforcement, instead of fearing law enforcement.

INSKEEP: Peggy Flanagan speaking there. Ten years, Senator - knowing that police department as you do, do you expect that there are deep-rooted problems there?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. And I actually, at one point, got in a public argument with the Minneapolis police chief when he actually took these grand jury considerations, which we had back then, of police-involved shootings and deaths and put the investigations into his own department. That was years ago. Now they're back outside of the department.

And so I think the best thing is a longtime full-scale investigation, top to bottom. This is a state effort. I've also called for a federal effort. It's called a pattern and practice investigation. And I led an effort with 25 senators I got on board on this last week to call for it. And I think you could do both and should do both at the same time.

So I would really like Attorney General Barr to respond to my request so that we can get this started because it's not just one officer. It's training. It's what they've done, how they've hired people, what their standards are, why he thought that was OK to put his knee, which is so outside the realm, and watch this man, George Floyd's life evaporate before us. It is just wrong.

INSKEEP: Senator, as you know, some activists would like to go back further than 10 years and look at your time as prosecutor in the Minneapolis area. And they've noted that you typically did not bring charges against officers who were involved in shootings; you instead referred those cases to a grand jury, which of course is a thing a prosecutor can do, but you don't have to do. Looking back on those police cases, would you do them differently?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. But I want to point out something that's important to know. At that time, that's pretty much what the practice was. The idea was that you would be able to get rid of any political bias and present it to a jury. And so what I would do now is make that decision myself. But I want to be clear that every single one of those cases, we did present the facts to a grand jury so they could decide whether or not there should be criminal charges. And now that has shifted.

I also have done things that I - that we have continued on, and now it's become pretty much a standard. Videotaping interrogations - I was one of the first people to advocate for that across the country. We had it in Minnesota. Back then, I pioneered a new form of eyewitness identification to get the bias out of that, the racial bias out of misidentification - DNA review of major cases. But now it's shifted, and there's so much we can do.

As I said to my colleagues on the floor in a speech I gave yesterday, you know, we took an oath. We didn't wave a Bible in the air for a photo op like the president; we placed our hand on the Bible, and we swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And the enemy we face now is racism, injustice. And it's time to stop talking and do our jobs. Get rid of those chokeholds...

INSKEEP: American...

KLOBUCHAR: ...Nationally.

INSKEEP: American Public Media did some very interesting reporting on this - looked back to eight years, beginning in 1999. So this is a time when you were prosecutor. They found the city of Minneapolis had to pay out $4.8 million in legal settlements related to 122 police misconduct incidents. Does that surprise you?

KLOBUCHAR: I have known about many of those cases that were public but not all of them. And so if I could just - there are so many reforms we can make, nationally, to get the information out. One - so we can find out about that police misconduct immediately. I'm calling for public release of all that data. That will help us to do better and to hold more people accountable.

Secondly - different standards of police conducts, having a model police standard across the country. We have a poor use of force. Right now we have a patchwork number of systems - getting rid of chokeholds on the federal level - all of these. Senator Booker, Senator Harris leading efforts. I'm putting out a number of proposals out there and working with them. We've already had a bill that we've long supported on racial profiling. There are so many things we can do.

But I think this mobilization that we're seeing nationally - and for someone like me that's worked in the system and has tried to make change, it has been hard to do because of the things that Keith Ellison was talking about in that direct interview that you had. It is hard to do because of where some of the public is.

Right now public opinion is on our side. They have seen the horror of the video, and they are mobilizing across the country, righteously protesting. And we must take the moment and seize on it on the state basis and also on the federal basis. We must do something.

INSKEEP: Senator Klobuchar, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

KLOBUCHAR: It was great to talk to you, Steve. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Amy Klobuchar is a Democratic senator from Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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