Anger as local police union chief calls George Floyd a 'violent criminal'

Chris McGreal in Minneapolis
Photograph: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/AP

The president of the Minneapolis police union has written to its members calling George Floyd a “violent criminal”, describing those protesting over his death as terrorists and criticizing the city’s political leadership for not authorizing greater use of force to stop the rioting.

Related: Angry Donald Trump calls for tougher approach against George Floyd protests

The letter drew a swift rebuke from a former Minneapolis police chief who called it a disgrace.

Lt Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, defended the four officers involved in Floyd’s death, including Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes in the lead-up to his death on 25 May. Chauvin is facing murder and manslaughter charges, and the three other officers have been fired.

“What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd. The media will not air this. I’ve worked with the four defense attorneys that are representing each of our four terminated individuals under criminal investigation, in addition with our labor attorneys to fight for their jobs. They were terminated without due process,” wrote Kroll, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Star Tribune.

Floyd had served time in prison for aggravated robbery but Chauvin could not have known that when he detained him. Video footage shows that Floyd was not behaving in a violent manner during his arrest, was not armed, and was not suspected of a violent crime.

Following Governor Tim Walz’s characterisation of the protests as led by outside agitators, Kroll described the demonstrators as organised extremists.

“This terrorist movement that is currently occurring was a long time build up which dates back years,” he said.

At the weekend, Walz claimed that 80% of those arrested during the protests were from out of state and implied they were an organised movement intent on disrupting governance. But arrest records show his claim was false. In fact, 80% were from Minnesota and half of them were from Minneapolis.

While groups of young white people dressed all in black were highly visible in confrontations with the police, alongside young African Americans angered by Floyd’s death, large numbers of the people involved in looting several miles of Lake street in south Minneapolis were evidently from the surrounding area.

Former Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau swiftly condemned Kroll in a tweet, and suggested that the letter reflected the attitudes that had blocked her efforts at reform of the police department.

“A disgrace to the badge! This is the battle that myself and others have been fighting against. Bob Kroll turn in your badge!” wrote Harteau, who resigned from the department in 2017 after a police shooting.

Kroll, who has appeared at a campaign rally with Donald Trump and praised him as a “wonderful president” for his support of the police, has long had run-ins with politicians seeking to reform policing in Minneapolis.

In 2007, Kroll called then congressman and now Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison – who is Muslim and black – a terrorist because he pushed for reform of the police.

In his letter, Kroll said “heroic” police officers have been let down by political leaders who failed to authorise the deployment of sufficient numbers of officers on the streets to shut down the protests, and the destruction and looting.

“What has been very evident throughout this process is you have lacked support from the top … Given the right numbers, the right equipment and your ability to use them would have ended this Tuesday night,” he wrote. “I’ve noted in press conferences from our mayor, our governor, and beyond, how they refuse to acknowledge the work of the MPD (Minneapolis police department) and continually shift blame to it. It is despicable behavior. How our command staff can tolerate it and live with themselves I do not know.”

But Kroll praised the city’s police officers.

“No one with the exception of us is willing to recognize and acknowledge the extreme bravery you have displayed through this riot. You have my utmost respect,” he said.