By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Republicans in the Minnesota Senate want answers to why there was so much violence during the days of unrest following George Floyd’s death.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced Thursday that there will be hearings starting next week to determine who is to blame and exactly what happened. Republicans say they want answers as to who allowed looters to go on rampages after Floyd’s death, which was exactly a month ago, on Memorial Day.

Floyd, a Black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes during an arrest in south Minneapolis. Cellphone video of the arrest sparked outrage in the Twin Cities, leading to days of protests and nights of rioting. Hundreds of buildings were damaged, looted and burned — some completely destroyed. The damage in Minneapolis alone is estimated to be upwards of $100 million.

“We all witnessed the destruction of businesses, some in broad daylight,” Gazelka said at a morning press conference. “The question is: Who decided the looters would be allowed to do that?”

Republicans specifically want to know the details of what led Minneapolis police to abandon the Third Precinct police station. Additionally, they want to know why the National Guard was not a visible presence on the ground in Minneapolis until the weekend, four days after the violence started.

At the press conference, Gazelka did not directly answer a question about whether there will be subpoenas issued for the hearings, but a top aide clarified that the Senate Judiciary Committee does have subpoena power, and they will be involved in these hearings.

Democratic senators will be part of these hearings as well. It sets up for what is likely to be a spectacle at the Capitol, with Republican Senators, most of whom are from greater Minnesota, grilling top state and even city officials over the basic question of what happened.

Susan Kent, the DFL Senate leader, responded to Republican plan to hold hearings, saying that Republicans should be just as focused on criminal justice reform as they are on the destruction of property. She noted that these hearing come after a recent special session, where no police reform proposals were agreed upon, during which the Senate held a single, informational hearing for criminal justice reform.

“It is deeply discouraging and troubling to see Senate Republicans prioritize hearings that completely fail to address racial disparities within our criminal justice system,” she said, adding: Minnesotans statewide are asking us to do our jobs and take meaningful action. The one informational hearing they held on weak proposals doesn’t cut it. It is now abundantly clear they were never really interested in passing critical legislation.”

The Minnesota Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus also responded to the hearing plans and also called for Senate Republicans to help pass criminal justice reforms.

“There will be time to address the civil unrest that occurred in the days following George Floyd’s senseless killing, but the work to enact transformative, systemic changes within law enforcement is urgent, and Black, Indigenous, and communities of color can’t wait any longer for change,” the POCI Caucus said, in a statement. “Senate Republicans have a duty to resume these critical discussions right now, or status quo systems that have failed Minnesotans for generations will continue to prevail.”

The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and is facing murder charges. Three other officers involved in the arrest are also facing charges.

Esme Murphy