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Bob Kroll: Letter referencing George Floyd's criminal history was a 'morale builder'

Bob Kroll's first public comments since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police didn't indicate much soul searching had taken place.

Bob Kroll's first public comments since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police didn't indicate much soul searching had taken place. CBS This Morning

Bob Kroll has finally gone public after weeks of unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis officers.

The president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis appeared opposite anchor Gayle King on Tuesday’s CBS This Morning, along with three other union leaders.

We’ve been waiting to hear from Kroll, and not because we absolutely love listening to him call Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” or go off at Donald Trump Rallies.

It’s because Minneapolis and the nation at large are deep in discussions about police reform, including the potentially obstructionist role unions like Kroll's play in that process. Particularly when it comes to getting rid of cops who do violent or racist stuff. (Case in point, the racist Christmas tree incident of 2018, which is still pending arbitration.)

Right at the top, King asked Kroll the question on everyone’s minds. People of color have been calling out what they see as systemic racism embedded within the Minneapolis Police Department. That’s literally what all those back-to-back protests in the Twin Cities have been about. Did Kroll think that was the case?

“I do not,” he answered.

(Welp.)

“Racial issues certainly need to be addressed,” he continued. "And we are willing to work through that as we have done year after year…. Is it systemic racism? Not in my opinion.” He went on to say that there “certainly” need to be reforms of some kind, and the union would like to be “part of that.”

King then shifted gears to address the letter Kroll sent out to union membership in the wake of the protests, which, among other things, said, “What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd.” King asked Kroll what the point was in mentioning that.

“Well, I did not bring that out in public, and you need to understand the context,” he said. He explained that the officers had been “under fire” for several days. His letter to members was “a scribbling” of what the board had been thinking about at the time, and a “morale builder.”

“But see, Bob, that’s the thing,” King said. “You’re calling it a ‘morale builder.’ The city’s on fire because they believe this man has been murdered by a police officer. What is the purpose in bringing that up?”

Kroll said that was just one small section of a very lengthy letter.

King also asked Kroll under what circumstances he believed it would be appropriate to fire a police officer. In the letter, he vowed to “fight” for the officers involved in Floyd’s death’s jobs. He found King's question too open-ended, without “the rest of the week” to discuss the hypotheticals.

Kroll also echoed other sentiments that appeared in his letter, specifically that the police department was being “scapegoated” to cover up “incompetent,” “failed” city leadership.

Kroll said officers were also “blindsided” by the events leading to Floyd’s death because they haven’t yet reviewed the bodycam footage, which might “shed some light that we aren’t aware of.” He did say the widely available video of Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck was “horrific.”

Also he reiterated that he thinks Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization.

These comments mark Kroll’s first since Floyd’s death, but it’s not for lack of asking. Local media has been trying to get in touch with him nonstop. A few pointed out on Twitter that it felt like more than a coincidence that he’s married to Liz Collin, a reporter at CBS’s Minneapolis station, WCCO.

Later Tuesday, Kroll and other police union leaders did grant an interview to other outlets. (Though not the Star Tribune, which he's apparently still punishing for disclosing his marriage to Collin.) As Minnesota Public Radio reports, Kroll said he'd considered quitting his post -- as many critics called for -- during the height of protests after Floyd's death.

“And I said, ‘Is this a thing that can make things better?’" Kroll said. "And so I asked [federation board members], and I said, ‘Is this something that would help?’”

Kroll also warned that the recent flare of gun violence in the city is "a snapshot," and "a preview of what you'd see if they actually go forward with this defund the police."