Keith Ellison: Bringer of justice for George Floyd

Without General Keith Ellison, there may have been no justice in George Floyd’s murder.

Keith Ellison: Bringer of justice for George Floyd
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison during the 2023 NNPA National Convention in Nashville.

When Keith Ellison left his seat in the U.S. Congress to run for the position of Minnesota Attorney General, many thought he had lost his mind. Why leave a position of national prominence and importance to work on the state level, they asked.

National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) president Dr. Ben Chavis has his own theory.

“You [Ellison] were led by a higher power to put you in a position to bring justice for George Floyd,” Chavis told Ellison while introducing him before Ellison’s address to attendees at the recent NNPA Convention in Nashville.

And whether you believe in a Supreme Being or not, there’s no arguing with the results. Had Ellison not been in place as Minnesota’s AG, it is highly likely that the Minneapolis Police Department’s original report on Floyd’s death, titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” would have been allowed to render those video images mute.

However, Ellison saw those videos of Floyd being murdered and refused to let it stand. It was Ellison’s legal team that brought the officers involved to justice. For his stand, Ellison received the NNPA’s highest service honor, the Courage and Leadership Award.

The Defender spoke with Ellison about that effort and his latest book on the topic, “Break the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence.”

DEFENDER: Can you say a word about your book?

ELLISON: Well, let me say this about my book. It says Keith Ellison on it. But it really was a group effort. I don’t mean that to be fake humble. I mean that truly, it was a collaborative effort. Big thanks to my colleagues at the Attorney General’s office, but also to Judge Blackwell, who volunteered when he was a private attorney; to Steve Slicher, to Lola Velasquez, people who stepped up who were not even part of my office. But I asked them to help, and they did.

DEFENDER: Who else helped you bring justice to the George Floyd tragedy?

ELLISON: Thanks to those people who happened to be on the corner and saw George Floyd murdered in front of them. These people were not professional witnesses. This is not what they do. They’re just folks who were going to the corner store on Memorial Day [May 25, 2020] and happened to be there. And they showed up a year later to tell what they saw, to great pain to themselves. None of them got up on that witness stand and then got off that witness stand without grievous personal pain. They were all in tears as they relived that tragedy. So, I’m real grateful for all the help that we got.

DEFENDER: What is your hope regarding this book’s impact?

I just hope people read the book because we can’t forget what happened to George Floyd. You know, since George Floyd, I get calls on a regular basis about some tragic incident. And so, I’ve been in a number of conversations, and the point is, these cases can be won. They don’t have to go the way of the first Rodney King case where there were acquittals. Or the Walter Scott case, where there was a hung jury. Or the Eric Garner case, where there was no charge. Or the Sandra Bland case, no charge. Or the Breonna Taylor case where [Kentucky Attorney General] Daniel Cameron literally sabotaged the prosecution. It doesn’t have to go that way. These cases can be won if competent counsel will put on a good case.

DEFENDER: What’s the danger if AGs and district attorneys lack your commitment to justice for all?

ELLISON: So, I hope that the pressure gets on them because you can throw a case. You can say, “Well, I’m not gonna call the right witnesses. I’m gonna forget to call certain people.” Like, Daniel Cameron, and this is not an exaggeration, used the grand jury. [He] publicly said the grand jury refused to indict any of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. He did not present any charges for them to charge the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. There was no possibility that they could. But then he goes to the public and says, “Oh, the grand jury didn’t do it.” Grand jurors sue to try to come tell their story. As you know, grand juries have to be secret. They can be in contempt of court if they speak out of turn. But [the grand jurors] were trying to get the judge to say, “Let us tell the truth about what this liar [Cameron] said about us.” And now this cat is the one running for governor in Kentucky. My point is, he’s not an honest person and he’s ambitious and he’s a tool of the people who do not believe in fairness.

DEFENDER: How important is the Black Press for amplifying the Black community’s voice?

ELLISON: Here’s how important the Black Press is. I don’t go through a week without reading the Black Press. I personally rely on the Black Press because we live in an age where it may seem like you have a lot of sources of news, but quite honestly, you don’t. Newsrooms all over the country have cut their staff. You rely on the big newspapers to tell you what’s going on. No, you need to rely on a trusted source who has integrity, who believes in telling the truth. And that Black Press is trying to get you the real news about what’s really happening.

What’s amazing to me about it, if you look at the mainstream press, they’re actually getting this one little story. You might have somebody who supplies different news agencies with the same story. So, if you want to read about something, you only get one version of it. The Black Press is giving you the real story about what’s going on now. And the Black Press is bigger than just newspaper. Every Black Press I know, they might print a version, but they’ve got an electronic version. Now, they’re using more live streams, audio, video, podcasts. So, they’re up to date. They’re meeting the moment with technology. Again, the real thing is, it’s hard to know what to believe if you don’t get any news. It’s also hard to know what’s really the truth if you’re getting flooded by a ton of false, fake news. So, then who do you trust in a time when you just can’t make heads or tales? The Black Press. By the way, a lot of white people will read the Black Press. A lot of people of all colors read the Black Press because they’re like, “These guys gonna tell me what’s really happening.”