Story published: June 18, 2020
The three-minute video left little dispute over what happened.
A then 20-year-old Taylor Kueng, who identifies as gender non-binary (they/them/theirs), filmed Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies arresting friend Makala Moore, then 19, and themselves, on May 31, 2019. The pair had protested when officers detained two black men on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis over an open-bottle violation. But attention then turned to Kueng and Moore, who are also black.
Moore was filmed being detained on the ground as a white officer restrained and handcuffed her while leveraging his body on top of her. Moore is heard shrieking, “Stop touching me, stop touching me.” Kueng continued to film as a white deputy turned to them and attempted to arrest them also, and threatened jail and the use of a Taser. The pair were charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process, though Kueng is heard repeatedly asking the officer why they were being arrested.
The arrests got the attention of the Minneapolis NAACP, which stepped in to assist. City attorneys eventually dropped the charges. In a statement to Twin Cities PBS, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office said:
“The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office continues to provide robust training in implicit bias, diversity, racial equity and de-escalation training. We undertook an administrative review of the incident, which resulted in no discipline. We did have a productive and informative dialogue with the NAACP about this incident.”
Shortly after the charges were dropped, Kueng and Moore appeared at a press conference, where they spoke out against the harsh treatment they received and demanded an apology.
“They tried to wrongfully arrest two African-American men at the time. I thought that the arrest was unjust, so I decided to speak out and say something,” Moore told the press.
“Who do we call when the ones who were supposed to protect and serve you are the ones hurting you, traumatizing you and completing disregarding your humanity?” Kueng asked.
“We want the sheriff’s office to apologize to these young women — and to black people — because we recognize this is a systemic issue,” Redmond told reporters.
Redmond also called on law enforcement to have better protocols and to undergo culturally-based training. “We want them to put the money where their mouth is…to make sure that their officers know that you can’t interact with the community like this. We need better results,” Redmond said.
One year later, another video has surfaced in another arrest, this time documenting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. All four former Minneapolis police officers involved have been charged. Derek Chauvin faces second-degree and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for kneeling on Floyd’s neck and causing his death. J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane have been charged with aiding those crimes.
Kueng, 26, is also the biracial brother of Taylor Kueng, now 21. Besides Taylor and Alex, who is the biological son of their white mother and a black father, there are three other Black siblings, who, like Taylor, were also adopted. Their maternal grandmother, Bonnie Kueng, who is white, said all five siblings in the family have had some negative interactions with the police over time. She said they were all raised by her daughter, Joni, whom she described as “tough” and who had done a “remarkable job” raising her brood on her own.
But the killing of George Floyd unleashed waves of anger and pain over the death of yet another Black person while in police custody. The fact that one of the former police officers charged with aiding and abetting the homicide is a biracial man who had grown up with black siblings underscores the complexity of policing and race in America.
“White supremacy just runs rabid in Minnesota,” said Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “I often call it the white Wakonda. It’s the best state ever if you’re white, it’s the worst state if you’re black. And I think our brother George Floyd’s death is showing us it’s all coming to the surface.”
Three weeks after the killing, a makeshift memorial to Floyd has taken over the intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis where he died. Signs, stuffed animals, artwork and flowers are everywhere. The area is blocked off to traffic, and signs denoting the area as a sacred space are posted.
Redmond took it all in. A year ago, she had put aside her legal studies for the bar exam to come to the aid of Taylor Kueng and Makala Moore.
“This is systemic. If you think about the foundation of policing in America. It was really built off the backs of Black bodies and slave patrols, and they’re still treating us like enslaved Africans, brutalizing our community,” she said.
Redmond and organizers for Black Lives Matters and others have called for change. The Minneapolis City Council has voted to defund the police. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has announced new reforms, while federal civil rights and state human rights investigations are pending. While the future of the police department is still politically unclear, several officers voluntarily left the department this week.
“I think the biggest problem is the lack of accountability. That’s why I appreciate Chief Arradondo so much. He’s the first police chief that’s actually held officers accountable. The fact that he fired all four officers within 24 hours of the videotaping release, that speaks wonders,” Redmond said.
And it’s also incredibly rare. While one could argue that law carve outs allow police to kill while on duty, legal experts say that’s only part of the story. The other is that few police officers ever stand trial.
“There have been about 1,000 people killed by the police every year,” said Bradford Colbert, who teaches criminal law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “And you figure the last 15 years, that’s 15,000 killed. Only [for] 100 of those cases were charges ever brought. Charges, not convictions.”
Public defenders say one need only to look at how easily law enforcement crimes can be covered up at the scene. Pat Kittridge spent 31 years as a public defender for Ramsey County. His father and brother were state patrol officers, and Kittridge notes that the police are the first responders who document events, which means that they control the narrative.
“They are the principal investigators and witnesses for the prosecutors. They need [the police], and they need their support and help [to win cases],” he said.
But while this relationship is not new, Kittridge said the problem of cover-ups doesn’t end with law enforcement.
“It’s these high-visibility cases we pay attention to,” Kittridge said, referring to George Floyd’s police killing. “But it’s the day-to-day encounters where people are stopped in their cars and people are treated differently based on race that has a profound effect on society. And then prosecutors may take tainted evidence, not all the police on it, and a trial court may turn a blind eye as well. And then an appellate court supports the trial court. Structurally it works through the system,” he said.
It’s a system that has long been problematic, he said. So why the outrage and swift firings and arrests over George Floyd’s killing, in particular, when so many other cases have gone unexamined?
“The video is the game changer,” Professor Colbert said. “That changes everything. Because otherwise people would testify, and you get different viewpoints. But the video here is the game changer.”
Video is also what supporters say made the difference in charges being dropped against Taylor Kueng and Makala Moore. TPT asked NAACP’s Redmond about the connection between the Kueng siblings, which alerted her to the family relationship in the two arrests. Redmond decided to sit down with Taylor Kueng in a video of their own. Redmond said she prayed for Kueng, their brother, mother and for George Floyd’s family.
“I also believe right is right and wrong is wrong. And that doesn’t mean you can’t redeem yourself. If you have breath in your body, you can redeem yourself. Unlike our brother George Floyd, these four officers do have breath in their body,” she said.
Redmond commended Taylor Kueng for agreeing to address the connection.
“It shows how much things haven’t changed. I mean, I see things changing [now] that he’s murdered – but that it was allowed to get up to that point, even a whole year later in 2020, how much things haven’t changed,” Kueng said, looking down, referring to their own treatment a year ago.
Bonnie Kueng said her grandson, Alex – who had just graduated from the police academy in December – had volunteered for the Third Precinct because he wanted to mentor young people in North Minneapolis. Kueng said her biracial grandson “saw both sides.”
Taken 100 years apart, a video that captured ex-police officer killing George Floyd bears an eery resemblance to a photograph of three Black men who were lynched in Duluth in 1920. Twin Cities PBS Senior Producer Daniel Bergin reflects on what the images – one moving, one still, both disturbing – say about Minnesota’s long history of systemic racism.
George Floyd’s police killing has inspired countless artists across the globe to create murals in his honor, works that also call for justice and anti-racism reform. And that’s left a lot of people wondering what will happen to the works of art – many created on temporary surfaces such as plywood panels – when communities start to rebuild. Students and professors at the University of Minnesota have created an online database that aims to catalog these expressions so they can be studied for years to come.
Along with other urban centers across the country, the Twin Cities have a history of racially discriminatory housing covenants that prevented people of color from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. That history ripples in the present-day affordable housing crisis: By limiting opportunities for home ownership, people of color were stripped of one key way to build equity over time. Discover more in “Mapping the Roots of Housing Disparities in Minneapolis.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly in the sub-headline that Taylor Kueng had witnessed two Black men being arrested on May 31, 2019.