One cannot begin to understand the current racial tensions within the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) until one reviews the history of this tension. The tensions are there, extremely dangerous tensions.
Many do not understand while others don’t care about the level of hatred and disrespect, professional and personal, within the MPD, towards the small core of Black police officers by many of their White colleagues. It is not unknown. It is ignored.
During the five years I served on the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC), which the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) established in 2003 (it continued through 2008), we warned the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. of the dangerous level of racism in the MPD. What was so troubling was the indifference of Federal, State and City officials to the dangers of racial conflict within the department.
The revelations now coming out of Green Bay, Wisconsin about outrageous statements laced with racially derogative and threatening statements against Black citizens by visiting Minneapolis police officers symbolizes and reflects a department that ignores instead of corrects. Another example is the racial strife inside the Cincinnati, Ohio Police Department in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The link in the end of this column’s tagline shows the MPD history, year by year since this column began, demonstrating the hell that can come from being Black in the MPD. The level of disrespect accorded Black officers is reminiscent of that under South Africa apartheid, where Black policemen and constables were treated like third-class citizens by their White comrades in arms. We forget at our peril the treatment in slave days, Jim Crow days, and periodic days since then.
The continued silence of the governor, mayor, city council, and civic and state leaders is chilling. Black leadership is silent too. Indeed, remember “the Mill City Five” and the Black leadership betrayal of them and of the Black Police Officers Association. Black leaders sided with then MPD Chief Tim Nolan against the concerns of Black officers in the MPD, unwilling to give up snitch pay.
And even after the Black officers filed their law suit in 2007, against the city and the department, Black leadership refused to support their contention and lawsuits. The Obama administration and the U.S. Attorney General today have also passed, as have many nonprofit leaders and White church leaders, as there is resistance to condemn a city run by Democrats (think also of Chicago and Detroit).
The history is quite clear: Black Police Officers have had little support in their quest to correct past grievances and to provide support today. A sobering reminder of the history is seen in the attention to the culture of racism in this department provided by the legendary Inspector Raymond Presley, now deceased.
When we think back to the 1930s and 1940’s, we also think of Lt. William Colson, one of only three Black officers in a one-thousand man department, yet a man who became the first African American lieutenant, just as Raymond Presley became the first inspector in the history of the department.
Those who know the history of race relations in this department know it has been a continuous struggle since the first time a Negro patrolman walked the beat and yet did not have the authority or power to detain or arrest a White citizen. The danger today is from those who would take us back to the 1890s and make the African American police officer an endangered species.
Black officers suffer in silence and pain without support in the lonely battle they wage in the dark, racist corridors of the MPD, and without support from the citizenry they protect. This is not a healthy situation. It provides all the worse possible circumstances at a time when we need all of the MPD to work together in the face of future eruptions of racial conflict.
Neither White nor Black will be able to continue to hide behind the ignorance of “We didn’t know,” “We didn’t have an idea,” “Golly, if someone just told us we could have sat down and corrected this problem.” Such statements would be erroneous, hollow, untrue. All that can be authenticated is the continued perpetration of the big lie that racism does not exist here in our beloved Minnesota.
All that is needed is better understanding of what it is like to be a Black member of the MPD (see link below). It is out of place in any institution but in particular it is out of place in an institution that is supposed to provide hope for justice and fairness and a sense of trust for all citizens. As I wrote in 2008, “…equal access and equal opportunity…and a seat for everyone.”
God bless America. And God bless our Black police officers in their hour of need.
For Ron’s hosted show’s broadcast times, solution papers, archives, and how to order his books, go to www.TheMinneapolisStory.com. See (1) our aggregate of columns and blog entrees on the racism toward police officers in the MPD at http://www.theminneapolisstory.com/solutionpapers/31minncops.htm.
To see more stories by Ron Edwards click HERE