“I grew up across the river. I bought my first home blocks away from where George Floyd was killed,” stated Laura Coates, CNN senior legal analyst and SiriusXM host of “The Laura Coate Show” to the MSR. Coates discussed some of her feelings around the impact of perhaps one of the most consequential events in modern-day history.
“We know, although Minnesota is far above the Mason Dixon line,” said Coates, “Jim Crow had its talons in every state in the country. So it’s not that I didn’t know discrimination existed, but it was so close to home.
“I remember passing that route where George Floyd was killed so many times on my way to my first law firm job. I love my hometown so dearly; it was so disorienting to have to confront the same bias I have been fighting in other parts of the nation.”
The Highland Park-raised mom of two graduated from St. Paul Academy, eventually going on to Princeton University, then the University of Minnesota Law School. Coates practiced at full-service law firm Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis, one of the largest headquartered in the U.S. She then moved onto the position of trial attorney in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Presidents Bush and Obama, where she specialized in voting rights.
What Coates saw happening in her hometown this summer also gave her a great deal of hope. “It was rewarding to see the outpouring of support across demographics of race, age, gender, and geographic lines, that far more resembled the communities I grew up in,” she said.
Astonishing many who saw the brutality on display in the video of Floyd’s death, none of the four officers involved were charged with first-degree murder. Coates understands the reaction but feels the public should trust Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “He has always advanced and advocated [for] issues of social justice,” explained Coates. “There are certain aspects of Minnesota law that are unique, particularly with respect to intentionality requirements one must have with different degrees of murder.”
Further, Coates advises the public to keep in mind that the Floyd case is a watershed, symbolizing much more than a murder case involving police officers. “There has to be a reckoning,” Coates emphasized. “In light of criminal justice reform, issues of qualified immunity, the use of lethal force, and the ways police officers who are defendants are conferred by the court—a benefit of the doubt that is not conferred to everyday civilians.”
Coates is hopeful that the historic impact of the Floyd case will be “that accountability will be sought, and that justice also requires a comprehensive approach to the way we charge, prosecute, and prevent cases like this.”
Coates also shared her thoughts about the Department of Justice under William Barr; one which poses an existential threat to civil rights. She stressed that the presidential election isn’t the most consequential in terms of Americans’ day to day lives. “If people want to really effectuate change, they’ve got to be devoted to voting at the local and state level, as much as they are at the federal level,” she said.
That is, citizens must be finely tuned to elections for mayor (who choose the chief of police), elections for district attorney, city officials, and governor. ”These are the people,” explained Coates, “who determine what happens in areas such as education, water utility, and the like. “They are the ones who have the most impact on the quality of day to day lives.”
Attorney General William Barr has also come under fire by no less than two thousand former federal prosecutors for the way he has, in their estimation, misused his power.
Coates recently penned an impassioned op-ed for CNN, taking Barr to task for his dangerous mishandling of his position. She stressed that he must continually be held accountable. “One of the things that can be an effective way to constrain the power of attorney general, or any official is through litigation, and that’s being done by civil liberties organizations across the country.”