The Riot Card

When police critically wounded 15-year-old Lawrence Miles Jr., TV reporters went out of their way to point out that being a cop in "Murderapolis" is dicey stuff. But after a witness said he saw Miles drop his gun and run before being gunned down, the stor

"That comparison is an insult," Anderson says. "I can't believe they used that case to justify that the kid could be shot in the back."

Last Friday morning, August 29, an ad hoc coalition of local African American leaders--organized by the City Inc.'s Spike Moss and Rev. Randy Staten--held a press conference at Zion Baptist Church in North Minneapolis to protest the police's handling of the Miles case. Flanked by Miles's father, grandmother, and Laura Scott Williams, interim director of the Minneapolis Urban League, Staten read a one-page list of accusations and demands designed to get the camera shutters clicking: "We are here to express our outrage with the conduct of the city of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Police Department in handling the shooting of 15-year-old Lawrence Miles Jr. in the back. We are further outraged that there appears to be a major attempt to initiate a cover-up by the police with a distorted media campaign."

The scene was vintage Staten, who one local politico calls our town's Rev. Al Sharpton. There was righteous indignation, cries of "amen," and pleas for an "end to the madness coming from the mass media." Mary Miles, Lawrence's grandmother, delivered a tearful plea for the truth (currently her grandson is in "serious" condition). Tycel Nelson's sister begged reporters to stop dredging up painful memories. Before concluding the 20-minute briefing, the group--dubbed the Black Community Coalition--held hands and prayed to "open the hearts of those here reporting."

As distasteful as Staten and Co.'s commodification of grief was, however, there is some substance to his evangelical posturing. His group has hired attorney Fred McNeal to protect the interest of the Miles family and initiate appropriate legal redress--an arrangement that should make the heretofore silent family members more accessible to police officials and the media. To comfort the conspiratorially minded, Dr. John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist from Dakota County, was secured to examine Miles's gunshot wounds later that same day (the results are forthcoming). And a dialogue was initiated with Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson and Sgt. Pete Jackson to help previously reluctant witnesses, such as Burrell Wheaton, feel comfortable talking to police investigators. The group also called for the immediate appointment of a special investigator and special prosecutor.

On Friday night and Saturday morning, these demands made headlines. But already the story has fallen off the page. In defense of the local media, the Black Community Coalition was long on accusations and short on facts. Unlike Edwards and Reeves, they haven't done the footwork to substantiate their claims. And Staten has yet to allow the Miles family to speak with reporters. When a reporter from Channel 5 began talking with Miles's grandmother after Friday's press conference, Staten separated them. "She really wanted to talk," the reporter protested. "That's the problem," Staten answered. "We've done too much talking and there hasn't been enough listening." On the other hand, as Jane Jones, a community activist who watched the press conference from the back of the room says, even if the mainstream media did have more evidence of a cover-up, or better access, it's unclear whether they would run an evenhanded story.

"The stories that need to be done aren't being done," Jones says. "If we show solidarity, they're not interested. If we question authority, they pack up and go."

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