Not in our Backyard

Scott Paulson was sick of his stepson's complaints about a white posse beating up his black friends. Then the phalanx of trucks pulled up on his lawn.

Uppermost on Scott Paulson's mind the evening of Saturday, March 28, was watching the NCAA Final Four in peace. His younger son was spending the night at a friend's house and his stepson Allen, 15, was in the basement with some friends and a stack of videos. Paulson was working himself up to negotiating possession of the upstairs TV with his wife when she announced that a friend had just bought a house with a hot tub and she was going out for the evening. For a couple of hours the 37-year-old fire-alarm technician actually got to sit in front of the tube, alone save the game.

The Utah Utes had just bested the North Carolina Tar Heels when Allen, who is white, and his friends, who are black, left to drive to the neighborhood McDonald's. Minutes later the kids burst back into the house, screaming as they slammed the door. The All American Boys had chased them home, Allen was yelling.

Paulson dug into him. He was sick of hearing his stepson talk about a supposed white gang that harassed him and his friends at school, at the video store, at the gas station--everywhere in the quiet, north-suburban community where Paulson had spent his entire life. Allen interrupted his rant. "Dad, they're outside," he pointed.

Paulson looked out the picture window in the living room and saw a white Bronco idling by the curb. He opened the door and heard the kids in the truck yelling, "Get the niggers out here." From the front stoop, Paulson says he told them to get lost. Then he went back inside and dialed 911.

Ten minutes later, a convoy of pickups arrived in the tiny, three-house cul-de-sac. As Scott Paulson watched from inside, two of the trucks pulled onto the front lawn so that their headlights and the set of hunting lights mounted atop one of the trucks flooded the living room. All he could see through the glare were silhouettes, some of them holding weapons--a big link chain, a baseball bat, a bottle. He called 911 again.

When the dispatcher asked Paulson his address and other questions he'd answered just minutes before, his amazement turned to anger. "I don't have time for a questionnaire," he snapped before hanging up.

He considered going into the back bedroom and getting a gun. "But then I thought about how many kids there were and how brave. I thought, 'They probably have one, too.' So I made the decision that they're not coming in the house.

"When I stepped out I had five or six of them up on the steps--all with weapons. They were in a semicircle, and the one kid to my right, he has a real big mouth. They're all saying, 'Get those niggers out here, we're gonna kill 'em.' One of them is asking, am I a nigger lover? One of them said they're gonna kick my ass."

Next thing he knew, Paulson says, he was forced to the ground as one of the kids whipped his head with a chain. A baseball bat crashed into the back of his thighs. After that, he says, the kids just kept swinging while he kept listening for sirens. "I was lying there feeling really helpless. Like, 'Oh, this is terrible.' And I was kind of hoping the kids in the basement would help, but knew they wouldn't."

Suddenly his attackers packed up and left. The sheriff's deputies still hadn't arrived, so Paulson went to the bathroom and put a cold rag on his forehead. He went to the kitchen, opened a beer and drained it, and then maybe opened another.

By the time the deputies appeared--some 19 minutes after his initial phone call, sheriff's department records show--Paulson says he was angrier than he'd ever been in his life. "I don't remember positively, but I think my first comment to them was about 'what a couple of useless assholes you are.'" That was the last time anyone from the Anoka County sheriff's office darkened the Paulson family's doorstep.

ASK PEOPLE IN Andover--sheriff's deputies, investigators, parents of Allen Paulson's classmates--about what happened that night, and they'll immediately explain that Paulson, his stepson, and the boy's friends brought the whole thing on themselves. They talk about how the kids allegedly started it all by yelling insults at some older teens at the gas station; how Paulson may have thrown the first punch; how allegedly someone emerged from the house during the fight with a gun. Ask about the tension that for years has been grinding away at this bedroom boomtown--the racial slurs stomped into the snow at the high school, the near-daily fights between white students and kids of color--and they'll tell you that it's all been exaggerated. That just because kids do stupid things doesn't mean that this community has a problem with race.

In fact, that's how Scott Paulson saw it until that night when his eyes swelled shut, two flaps of his forehead were rejoined by 14 stitches, and his leg stiffened up because of the puddle of blood under the skin of his thigh. In 1998, he assumed, no one would pick on his stepson for hanging out with black kids. Besides, this was Andover, where people moved to put miles of highway between themselves and the tide of youth violence elsewhere. "I'm sick of hearing about it," he'd tell Allen and his wife, who believed the boy.

Next Page »