The fight for justice continues, says Detroit native who prosecuted George Floyd case

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Breaking the cycle of inaction is a must to fight against injustice, said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd.

"We're a part of the 400-year-old struggle," said Ellison Saturday during Hartford Memorial Baptist Church's 13th annual Social Justice Conference. "The struggle is not over. It continues. Some people get tired of the struggle, but the struggle ain't tired of you because the injustice is still going on. As long as the injustice is there we have to respond to it and stand up for freedom as a collective and also as individuals."

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Detroit native, gives the keynote speech at Hartford Church’s annual social justice conference on Saturday, October 16, 2021.

Ellison, a Detroit native, has been Minnesota's attorney general since 2019. His office was thrust into the national spotlight when he was tasked with prosecuting Chauvin and three other officers following Floyd's death in May 2020. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison, while the three other officers face trial in 2022.

"We are going to keep on keeping on," he said. "We cannot prosecute our way out of this problem. We need meaningful change in Congress, state Legislatures and city councils and we need you to carry that change."

Pastor Charles Adams, left, shares a moment with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Detroit native, before Ellison gave the keynote speech at Hartford Church’s annual social justice conference on Saturday, October 16, 2021. Ellison’s theme was "The Church and Social Justice."

Ellison reflected on Chauvin's trial, the former officer's actions and how the issue is more prevalent in police departments than some might think.

"Everything Derek Chauvin did was lawless and without law," he said. "George Floyd died under the knee of tyranny. That's what it was. You hear people talk about tyranny and oppression. Usually it's a conversation we hear happening elsewhere. Tyranny happens in China, tyranny happens maybe in Columbia, maybe it happens in Syria. I am telling you we may occupy the same geography as our neighbors, but we live in different worlds. As African American people it is simply a fact that we live under state-sponsored excessive force chronically applied. ... We live under a tyrannical situation when we have to fear the people whose job it is to protect and serve us."

People clap as Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Detroit native, is introduced as the keynote speaker at Hartford Church's annual social justice conference on Saturday, October 16, 2021.

Ellison also said that in addition to the loss of life due to police brutality, there is a large financial impact as a result of misconduct lawsuits.

He cited poll tracker website FiveThirtyEight's analysis of public records from 31 of 50 cities with the highest police-to-civilian ratios in the country showing that those cities spent more than $3 billion to settle misconduct lawsuits over the past 10 years. The data released earlier this year showed Detroit spent an average of $6.4 million during the past nine years to settle claims of police misconduct.

"The family deserves compensation, but what if we just prevented police misconduct?" he said. "I got to know the family of George Floyd and $27 million sounds like a lot of money. They'd rather have George Floyd."

Ellison said reform can work. He noted that in 2020 Newark, New Jersey, did not fire a single shot and had zero settlement payouts due to police brutality cases. 

"It can be done, folks," he said. 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Detroit native, gives the keynote speech at Hartford Church’s annual social justice conference on Saturday, October 16, 2021.

Ellison called for people to stand up and to not let anyone off the hook for a crime, even prosecutors. 

"If you see someone commit a crime treat them like you would anyone else," he said. "A crime is a crime. No one is above the law or below the law."

Ellison said that despite Chauvin being behind bars and the upcoming trials of the other officers involved, the fight continues. He said it was a multi-racial effort to bring justice for Floyd and his family.

"The cause of justice goes on," he said. "You are a soldier in that fight. You have the capacity and the ability to make a meaningful difference. You might not be able to do everything, but you can do something. We need everybody to give what they can to make this society to live up to the true meaning of its creed."

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, left, a Detroit native, takes a selfie with Angela Dillard as Ellison gave the keynote speech at Hartford Church's annual social justice conference on Saturday, October 16, 2021.

Pastor Charles Christian Adams of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church thanked Ellison for his visit, noting his familial ties to the area. 

"He is here today because he understands the looming issues that face a predominantly African American city that is diversifying as we speak and a state that was pivotal election for the presidency for the United States in this last election. ..." Adams said. "He understand how important you are to the world."

Detroiter Carol Williams said she enjoyed listening to Ellison's talk, calling him a "prolific" speaker. She said she wished more people had the opportunity. 

"Thank goodness he had the statistics to prove his statements," she said. "That was outstanding."

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN