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Lt Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis police union, slammed former President Barack Obama’s “handcuffing and oppression of police” while praising Donald Trump at a re-election rally the president held in the city last year.
Donning a red “Cops for Trump” shirt as he took the stage, the lieutenant attacked the Obama administration over its alleged “despicable” treatment of police, adding: “The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around … he decided to start to let cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of us.”
The 2019 rally has come under scrutiny after photos from the event circulated online that purported to show one of the police officers involved in the recent killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of a white officer named Derek Chauvin. Mr Chauvin was seen in cellphone footage shared online kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He and three other police officers have been fired, as protests over the death have erupted throughout Minneapolis and across the country.
Mr Kroll told local news outlets that Mr Chauvin was not actually the officer seen in the photos from the rally. The photos have spread online amid days of violent protests, with many demonstrators condemning local police not just for the killing of Mr Floyd, but for what some have described as decades of systematic and institutionalised racism within the Minneapolis police department.
Mr Kroll’s comments at the rally, along with the officers’ actions witnessed in the now-viral footage of Mr Floyd’s death, have raised questions about the rank and file culture within the city’s local police force. On Friday morning, Mother Jones magazine resurfaced its own reporting from 2017 that detailed how the Minneapolis police union under Mr Kroll resisted reforms that banned its long-used “warrior-style” police training.
That type of aggressive training, which experts said can sometimes lead to fatal confrontations, has been associated with other police-involved deaths throughout the US, including the shooting death of Philando Castile in 2016, according to the magazine.
Mr Kroll defiantly sold the red “Cops for Trump” shirts he wore at the president’s rally last year, in an apparent protest against local policies that prohibited uniformed officers from attending political rallies or supporting candidates for elected office. The lieutenant told local news outlets the money made from sales would go to charity.
Mr Kroll continued to attack the president’s apparent political enemies before Mr Trump took the stage at the rally last year, telling the audience: “Debate the facts with the left, and when their facts don’t hold up for their debate, wait to be called a racist.”
“That’s the easy way out, right?” He continued. “Label. The all-accepting left, ‘Everybody’s welcome here, if you think like we do'.”
Mr Kroll later joined the president on stage as the crowd — many of them wearing the same “Cops for Trump” shirt — cheered the lieutenant.
On Thursday night, protesters burnt down the Minneapolis police precinct after officers were evacuated from the area. The mayor said he removed police personnel from the city’s Third Precinct to avoid violent confrontations between police and demonstrators. The fire from the police station continued burning into Friday morning.