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George Floyd's death and civil unrest thrust Jacob Frey into spotlight

First-term Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey pledged to "mend wounds" in the city after he was elected.
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After he was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 2017, Jacob Frey pledged "to mend wounds" in a city that's struggled with police brutality for years.

Now his city is being rocked by protests and rioting following the death of George Floyd during an arrest Monday by a Minneapolis police officer, and President Donald Trump is blasting him as a "very weak Radical Left Mayor" who needs "to get his act together and bring the City under control."

Frey defended himself — and his city — to reporters on Friday when the tweet was read to him.

"Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis. Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell," Frey said. "Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you can be damn sure we're going to get through this."

Frey has called for aggressive action in the investigation into Floyd's death and expressed solidarity with the protesters while urging that the demonstrations be peaceful. "We are doing absolutely everything that we can to keep the peace," he said Friday, despite the nationally televised images of chaos in the city from the night before.

Frey praised the police chief's decision to fire the officers involved in Floyd's death on Tuesday and called on Wednesday for the arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, to be charged criminally.

"Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail? If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now," he told reporters.

"We cannot turn a blind eye. It is on us as leaders to see this for what it is and call it what it is. George Floyd deserves, justice, his family deserves justice, the black community deserves justice and our city deserves justice."

Chauvin, who's white, was charged later Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of Floyd, who's black.

Police reform and racial inequality were two of the linchpins of then-city councilman Frey's mayoral campaign in 2017.

A civil rights lawyer, Frey called for weeding out biased cops while expanding community based policing.

“It’s not just getting rid of the bad, it’s also promoting and championing the good,” he said at one 2017 campaign event attended by the Minnesota Post.

He also called for tightening rules around police body cameras, arguing that an officer’s failure to turn on a body camera should be presumed misconduct, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

A Virginia native, Frey is a former competitive runner who was a member of Team USA at the Pan-American games in 2007. He finished in fourth place, running the marathon in 2:16:44.

He's said he fell in love with Minneapolis while running the Twin Cities Marathon earlier that year, and moved there after getting his law degree from Villanova in 2009. The marathon was also where he met his now-wife, Michelle, according to his campaign biography.

After an unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in 2011, Frey was elected to the city council as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in 2013.

He took on incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges and 14 other candidates in his 2017 bid for City Hall, and reportedly knocked on thousands of doors while holding himself as the hardest working candidate in the race.

“We are a divided city in many respects, and the first item of business is to mend wounds, unite around shared goals and create a collective recognition that a deviation in strategy doesn’t mean a difference in morals,” he said after he was declared the winner in the high-turnout race, the Star-Tribune reported.

He's the city's second Jewish mayor and, then 36 years old, the second youngest to be elected mayor.

His progressive positions on law enforcement have put him at odds with the city's police union since he took office in 2018, including his decision that squad cars display placards detailing immigrants’ rights in English and Spanish. The police union head called the installation of the“Know-Your-ICE-Rights” placards "simply insane."

Frey also backed a measure to stop off-duty police officers from wearing their uniforms at political events, which the union suggested was an anti-Trump measure. Both Frey and the city's police chief, Medaria Arradondo, denied that was the case.

"The Minneapolis Police Department is neither an ideological or political entity. It's not Democrat. It's not Republican. And we want people to understand that this is a neutral department," Frey told reporters.

In late 2018, Frey also backed the removal of a police inspector in charge of a precinct where a Christmas tree with racist ornaments was on display. The ornaments included a pack of Newport cigarettes and alcoholic beverage cans.

"This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis," Frey said. "Shifting the culture of the police department requires swift and decisive action."

The mayor has been very critical of the president, including ahead of an October 2019 rally in Minneapolis.

“While there is no legal mechanism to prevent the president from visiting, his message of hatred will never be welcome in Minneapolis,” Frey said then.

CORRECTION (May 29, 2020, 8:05 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the year when Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was elected. It was 2017, not 2018.