By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
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Parents were frightened all right, but not in the way Minn might have hoped. The police's list of 2-1 members, many say, includes kids who aren't a part of the group. And they say the zero-tolerance policy is a green light for police harassment, the subject of a recent neighborhood meeting. Parents complained that some officers overstep their bounds, taunting and calling kids names, and frisking them and pulling their cars over without probable cause. In a Southwest Journal article, MPD Inspector Brad Johnson said the officers were simply responding to complaints. Minn says the parents are "in denial as to whether their little darlings are involved in this sort of activity" and that the kids' stories of harassment are "bullshit."
"Kids watch TV and know that there is a cloud over Minneapolis cops' heads--that these are all Cro-Magnon bullies," he says. "There isn't an officer in my district that I don't have 100 percent confidence in."
But Sue Donohue, a writer and former therapist who's worked with juvenile delinquents, says the situation has been blown out of proportion. She's lived in the area and known many of the kids since kindergarten, and has been working to organize the parents, many of whom feel ostracized in the recent furor. "Basically, these are good kids," she says. "There's always been cliques. Kids get in trouble, they do dumb stuff--it's a rite of passage, and it pisses a lot of people off. These parents are so angry with the lack of support in the community, and I think the majority of them are trying to do something."
Donohue believes some of the stories of police harassment: When one boy was brought home after curfew, she says, his neighbor heard the police jeering as they dropped him off: "What is your dad, a drunk, you little fuck?" She's also heard of an officer allegedly holding a gun to the head of a boy being searched for marijuana. One parent claims an officer promised to nail her son for something when he turned 18, and fears the officer will plant something if necessary. Another says cops once hassled her son while he mowed the lawn.
"I saw the Southwest Journal article where police said they didn't harass the kids until 911 was called and (then) they go over to the site. That's a blatant lie," Donohue says. "I talked to police officers before I was involved that said they were doing this." Parents haven't filed complaints because they fear some officers will retaliate against their kids, she adds.
For the police, Inspector Johnson says he's only heard of one complaint, and he's tired of the "generalities" about "gestapo police."
"The whole idea behind this was not going after the kids for the sake of going after the kids," he says. "The concern was for the kids. We wanted to stop the behavior before it escalated."
But MPD's zero-tolerance policy probably hasn't helped in developing any sort of communicative atmosphere. As a squad car rolled by Pershing Park on a recent steamy afternoon, kids stopped playing and either looked down or glared at the car; the cops in the car glared back.
Despite their disagreements on policy and procedure, parents and police share a common fear: that a real gang will come to the area, and the kids--either because they're fascinated with gang culture or afraid of the police, or both--will join its ranks. Another circulating rumor says one boy is already associating with such a gang.
Donohue says its time to start talking. "As a community, these are our kids," she says. "It's our job as community members to come together and not only protect them, but turn things around for them."