Al Flowers

In early March, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and MPD Chief Bill McManus held what became a memorable press conference at City Hall. Amid the rote, serve-and-volley procedural established by local politicos and the sound-byte-driven news media, one booming voice suddenly stood out. Before Al Flowers could finish his question to the chief, the mayor nervously cut him off by saying, "That's it, Al. We're only taking questions from the media today." Flowers insisted that his question was directly related to a radio show he'd been doing, and persisted. The mayor cut him off again, and another time, before McManus finally stepped in and answered the query from Flowers. In a sense, it was classic Al: brusque, stubborn, undaunted and--at least to the city's white-power establishment--utterly annoying. Flowers has been pushing buttons for more than a decade, and has paid the price: He's been arrested repeatedly, and has been involved in two high-profile alleged police-brutality incidents. This fall, Flowers sought a restraining order against a cop who, according to the complaint, offered a steak dinner to any officer who could arrest Flowers in a crime. (The order was not issued.) And his sister, Alisa Clemons, herself a former Minneapolis cop, has won two six-figure discrimination suits against the department. Their niece reached a $180,000 settlement against the MPD, prompting one council member to say, "It appears we have a family business going." Maybe so. But maybe we also have a family that is, frankly, marked. And not afraid of the longstanding injustices the MPD has inflicted on the black community around this city--a family that won't easily be cowed. With his normally soft-spoken demeanor and shuffling gait, it's hard to imagine Flowers getting himself into so many jams. And maybe it's a put-on, since trouble becomes him. (He could take a lesson from his friend and more eloquent forerunner, longtime civil rights activist Ron Edwards.) But either way, there's a righteousness to all of Al's travails: While he might be a major irritant to the city's power brokers, he's a folk hero to many of his African American brothers and sisters.


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