Is Minneapolis police chief Robert Olson trying to stop federal mediation?

"We're not going to show up and demand a spot [in mediation]," explains Keesha Gaskins, third vice president for the NAACP, when asked why her group didn't attend the meeting. "We're the NAACP. We are the institutional civil rights organization in Minneapolis. To leave us out would be a mistake." Gaskins insists that the organization has no desire to delay or derail the mediation process. "The conduct of our police force is unacceptable, and we need for this to take place," she says, adding, "But we're talking about accountability. We have been in conversation with the city for months on this."

The NAACP's longtime involvement with the city, however, is exactly what concerns members of the nine-person panel already in place. They fear that participation by the civil rights organization would make the outcome a product of political insiders determined to maintain the status quo. "Olson controls them," Edwards claims. "[He] wants the NAACP there so they can report back to him."

"That's ridiculous," Gaskins counters, noting that her group recently called for the firing of two Minneapolis cops after the death of a black man in their custody. "We're not friendly to Olson's position; quite the opposite. It's just that without the NAACP, any mediation agreement won't be an important document."

Chief Robert Olson has proven to be a master politician
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Police Department
Chief Robert Olson has proven to be a master politician

Not surprisingly, in the wake of Olson's demands, other community leaders, such as Spike Moss, suddenly see their involvement as critical. And that has created a whole new set of political obstacles. Standing panel members are concerned about the apparently cozy relationship Moss has with Olson, especially after the two united in the aftermath of the Jordan riot in August. (They wonder, for instance, if Olson was the one who let Moss know about the meeting at the Hyatt.)

But Moss scoffs at the idea that his presence would tip the scales further in Olson's favor. "Olson has an ear and has listened," Moss allows. "But I've been consistent on this for years. I don't want bad cops in my neighborhood. I want mediation to happen."

Aside from moving too quickly for some in the selection process, the Community Negotiation Team has made one other political gaffe: keeping the identities of the board members anonymous. It is only because of various leaks to the media that the composition of the team is known: Two African Americans, one African immigrant, an American Indian, a Latino, an Asian, a member of the GLBT community, and two "police experts."

"Who are these people?" asks Rev. Jerry McAfee of the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in north Minneapolis. "Would you be comfortable with secret folk operating on your behalf?" McAfee claims that he sent a letter to Mayor Rybak in April outlining details for his own mediation team.

There is also a current of bruised egos and long-running feuds rising to the surface. "It would be a shame if Chief Olson is successful in using people's egos to stop this from happening," Gross says.

Mediator Glenn is relatively mum about the snafus, stopping short of saying she's exasperated, and maintaining that the Department of Justice will not pull out just yet: "As a mediator, you learn to be very flexible and very patient. We are interested in mediation. That's our mission."

What mission Olson plans to pursue is not quite as clear, but the chief's white noise has drowned out the real issue: The police force under his command keeps getting off scot-free.

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