Rank Discord

The cops are reluctant to talk about it. City officials flatly refuse. Who pushed the "mute" button on the most explosive affirmative-action lawsuit Minneapolis has seen in decades?

All of this has led some to wonder whether city officials are getting tired of defending their programs. "A lot of things that the city does--whether it's an employment issue, whether it's expanded certification--sometimes it seems they hope we will challenge them," says union head Delmonico. "I've been told off the record by city people that their use of expanded certification was probably bad, but that it was the thing they wanted to do."

One thing federation and black officers association members agree on--albeit for different reasons--is that the city probably would be relieved if a court overturned their right to use expanded certification. "It was certainly a way to drive a wedge into the federation if they wanted to pit our members against each other," observes Delmonico. The unrest would keep the cops off the administration's back, he surmises.

This particular conspiracy theory doesn't sound far-fetched to Don Banham. "Expanded certification has existed for 17 years," he says. "They've only used it in these two cases, with the last two sergeants promotions. I find it curious that the city decided to institute the program now, when it's always been available to them."

 

Back before the now-infamous promotions, a group of black cops got together at north Minneapolis's Riverview Supper Club at the behest of then-director of Affirmative Action Larry Blackwell. According to Ron Edwards, a longtime civil-rights advocate who has represented the officers at Civil Service proceedings, Blackwell wanted to know how the group felt about expanded certification.

Usually, minority officers answer that kind of question by saying they don't want any special consideration. But Edwards's recollection is that this particular group of cops was pissed. They were not getting the promotions they deserved, they said, but if they complained they were accused of sour grapes. And on those rare occasions when they did get their stripes they had to fend off grumbling that they only got ahead because of some special quota system. So, the cops told Edwards and Blackwell, they supported expanded certification: If they were going to be stigmatized anyway, they might as well take the promotions.

As Adams would find out later, however, that didn't mean they wanted to pick a fight: When he went to battle it out with federation and department brass, he said at the time, black cops refused to show up. He soon quit his position as vice president of the association in disgust. "There I am at federation meetings fighting for minority officers who are getting harassed, who are the people who should have been there," he explained. "Sometimes it just takes a couple of knocks on the head to make me see."

Edwards says Adams shouldn't have been surprised. "One of the things that's happened is that younger black officers who've come onto the force have been brainwashed to think that officers hired under expanded certification are somehow lesser officers," he says. "They unfortunately don't have anything close to an accurate recollection of history. They don't understand that everything that's been won in terms of advances has been at the cost of a legal or political battle."

Banham says he can see why many black cops have kept quiet. "At the time this was occurring, it was a hot issue," he recalls. "I had white officers come up to me and ask me how I felt about this. It was of great concern to a lot of people.

"We've never had a battle within the rank and file," he adds. "The majority of our scrapes have been with the system. So when this did occur, I can understand some reluctance to make waves."

Banham says he, like Adams, has complained to Delmonico that the union was not acting in all of its members' interest. "I respect the rights of the [individual] officers to challenge this through the legal process," he says. "The thing that's unsettling is that when the federation decided to take a stand, it was our money being used to make an adverse impact on us. We're card-carrying, dues-paying members, too."

Delmonico says he understands the black cops' irritation. But, he adds, one of the federation's purposes is legal representation of cops on labor issues, and that often means taking on unpopular cases.

At this point, says Banham, the Black Police Officers Association is not contemplating legal action of its own. "Obviously, we're watching to see how things progress," he adds.

How the suit progresses will probably depend on the kinds of details the city refused to discuss with City Pages--matters such as the numbers officials used to justify their use of expanded certification. It's even possible, federation attorney Gehan says, that when both sides have prepared their cases it will turn out that there's no factual dispute, just a question of interpreting the law. If that's true, the case could be decided without ever going to trial. (Right now, according to court documents, the earliest such a trial could possibly occur is January 2001.)

Whichever way it shakes out, says William Mitchell's Jordan, the case--and the hundreds like it around the nation--is likely to set standards for minority hiring, firing, and promotions for years to come. "It's going to become a test of wills, both moral and political," he explains. "Do we really want [affirmative action]? Why do we want it? Are we willing to put the work in to make it a program that will withstand legal challenge? Diversity is expensive, and whatever good is going to come in the workplace, it's not going to come cheap."

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