George Floyd death: Minneapolis riots could be solved 'relatively easily' if Trump wanted to - Alexander Gillespie

The riots in response to the alleged murder of African-American man George Floyd could be ended "relatively easily" if US President Donald Trump wanted to restore peace, according to international law expert Alexander Gillespie. 

Floyd died on Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for seven to eight minutes, sparking days of protests across the city which have since spread across the divided nation.

Dr Gillespie, an author and senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, says the protests provide the perfect cover-up for the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic - an almost welcome distraction as the US grapples to contain its devastating outbreak of the virus.

"Trump needs to have a distraction over the many other concerns he's facing, particularly the COVID crisis," Dr Gillespie told Newshub. "He needs to distract the population and that means these riots are likely to become more vigorous.

"He's got no interest in trying to solve this right now... because the more people who are angry on the streets, throwing rocks and setting fire to things, will be a distraction from the large economic and medical crisis that America is facing."

He says situations such as these can be "relatively easy" to de-escalate with the right leadership and correct response, starting off with the officer in question being taken to trial and appearing in a court of law. 

Secondly, those in power should be conducting a thorough investigation into the administration of the police department, ensuring there are no policies, procedures or oversights that may have allowed the incident to happen. 

Thirdly, he says an independent force should be established to oversee the police and hold officers to account, similar to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) in New Zealand. The IPCA is an independent civilian oversight body that oversees the conduct of the New Zealand Police and considers any complaints against its officers. 

George Floyd death: Minneapolis riots could be solved 'relatively easily' if Trump wanted to - Alexander Gillespie
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"Trump could step in and do any of one of these steps right now to de-escalate the situation, but he's choosing not to. He's allowing the situation to grow, he's talking about the deployment of soldiers in the national guard. It's likely to make it more volatile."

On Saturday, it was announced that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder after kneeling on Floyd's neck for roughly eight minutes, leading to his death. A bystander captured the incident on their phone, showing Floyd moaning and protesting that he couldn't breathe while Chauvin had him pinned to the floor. 

Dr Gillespie says the decision to charge Chauvin, 44, is the "minimum step" in response to the alleged murder. 

"The harder step is to make sure there is no inbuilt bias within that police force, and then the third step is making sure you have some independent review [to investigate what happened]. They need to do much more."

If Chauvin hadn't been charged, the city would be "burned to the ground".

On Friday, Trump attracted widespread backlash for a tweet responding to the riots, writing: "These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"

Gillespie says escalating the increasingly violent protests is conducive to Trump's agenda, the President actively trying to "inflame" the rampage and disorder. 

"If you've got a President who's almost suggesting that you can respond to looting with shooting, then it's likely to escalate... that suits Trump at the moment.

"What you need in this situation is national leadership, and you have not got that right now in America."