Black and Blue at the MPD
RACIAL TENSIONS CONTINUE to abound at the Minneapolis Police Department. Last week the Crisis Response Team, a special unit of black cops created a few years ago to help manage potentially explosive encounters between police and the black citizenry, tendered its resignation. The official spin was that it stemmed from bureaucratic issues of how the team was trained and deployed, but the blow-up was years coming. Sgt. Gerald Moore's resignation letter says as much, alluding in a parenthetical aside to "the way that black officers' concerns have not been addressed through two (2) police administrations and it appears that with the start of a third (3rd) administration that things have remained unchanged."
Matters were helped to a head in recent weeks by a pair of events: the reinstatement of the fired Sgt. Alisa Clemons by an arbitrator who cited a lack of solid evidence in the case, after the chief had assured the Black Police Officers Association that the evidence was in fact "overwhelming"; and the addition last week of two more gross misdemeanor charges against Sgt. Don Banham, who is going on trial this week for allegedly pushing a TV news photographer to the ground at the Metrodome last winter. On Monday afternoon I spoke with Officer Charlie Adams of the BPOA about the crisis team's resignation and the climate that produced it.
How would you describe the working relations between the MPD and its black officers at this point?
I think we should make it clear--and I wish the news media would have made it clear--that there's not a rift between black and white officers on the department. The problem lies with the police administration. We have complained for years, since 1988 at least, about the disparity in discipline. When black officers get in jams, the discipline they receive is disproportionate. We've raised that concern over the years, and with Chief Laux, some of it seemed to stop. After him, it's been business as usual. We had one black sergeant fired and one demoted. One of them, Alisa Clemons, was reinstated. Sergeant Don Banham is going on trial tomorrow for one gross misdemeanor charge, and last week they added two more.
What that says is that they're going way overboard to try to get this officer. He was number two on the lieutenants' [promotion] list, and now he's been demoted to patrol officer and taken off the list. It's strange that the so-called victim has not initiated a complaint against him. Internal Affairs did the whole complaint process. I think this is one time Internal Affairs has actually worked for the community, has actually taken an officer and investigated and found him guilty, and is now trying to discipline him. Our other counterparts, they don't receive as harsh a discipline for things they have done.
Our white officers see the disparity in discipline, too. With this Banham thing, they're always commenting that this is crazy. In matters of discipline, we are just held to a higher standard, I guess.
What has Chief Olson said to you about all this?
We haven't discussed it with Olson. We were told when he came in that he was aware of the black officers' issues. He told Don Banham he wanted to meet with him. He still hasn't met with Don. The only thing he's had to do with Don is when he demoted him. Now, somebody who's supposed to be up on these issues in our department, you'd think the first thing he'd do would be to pull in his black officers association and say, "What are the issues here? What needs to be happening?"
He just hasn't dealt with the issues at all. Actually, with the termination and demotion, he's put us in reverse. People we fought to get up in the rank structure are back down to patrol, or terminated. We're 180 degrees in reverse. And a lot of black officers are saying it's open season on us. I don't know how you can repair that, either.
[Olson]'s known for discipline. You can't complain about his record in disciplining other cops. But the people bringing those cases to him, we don't trust them. What he should do is evaluate the people bringing him those cases. Actually, he doesn't know any history about either one of those officers. If you called and asked him, I'll bet he couldn't tell you what Don has done in the department. I'll bet he doesn't even know he's got a Crisis Response Team. And maybe that's not his fault, either.
Say more about the role the Clemons and Banham cases played in the timing of the CRT's resignation.
The thing is, we have been discussing for the past couple of months the fact that they haven't used us, and that we were supposed to receive some ongoing training. When we were used, we were effective. But there was only one deputy chief, Hestness, who ever used us. And sometimes we were met with hostility from the other people when we got there. I shouldn't say hostility--they basically ignored us.
The best example of what we did was probably a double homicide where a husband killed his wife. Myself and a couple of other team members were there. The family was very upset at the tragic situation. The SWAT team wanted to move in quickly to stabilize the situation, because they weren't sure whether the husband was still alive. We spoke to the commanders and the deputy chief, and they did move in. Myself and Officer Moore and one of the inspectors from the 3rd Precinct ended up in a dispute with some family members who wanted to go in [the house] at the same time, and we ended up putting them in cuffs. To make a long story short, we got the situation under control. It was a tough situation knowing these guys' mother was in there dead. It caused a lot of hard feelings between the family and myself, but the point is, we were there and the situation was controlled. No one else got hurt.
But [the Clemons and Banham cases] did influence the timing. Most of my members couldn't figure out why she was terminated. The chief did meet with us, and he said he had overwhelming evidence. But then to hear the arbitrator's ruling about the evidence--it created some suspicion on the part of black officers that maybe we were lied to.
In Don's case, when they put the one charge on him, we thought, okay, we'll deal with it. But when they added the other charges, it seemed like too much. If that doesn't amount to going for the man's license--when you stack up charges like that, it's a sign you're out to get that guy convicted. And every officer knows that. It's as if they don't think we're intelligent enough to figure that out. But they don't think we're intelligent anyway. That's why we don't have any "qualified" blacks in the rank structure, I guess.
The black officers just do not trust the administration. I think we're the only city this size with a black community this size in which the police department doesn't reflect the community--especially when it comes to rank structure. I don't think it's even fair for the white officers. Because in other departments where they have a fairer rank structure, they don't have all this trouble with brutality complaints and their public image. They've got black officers and administrators who are in a position to deal with the situations when they come up.
Where does this whole matter go from here?
Nowhere. We are done. The team is finished, it'll never be back in existence. Right now my people are saying, that they don't want to meet with anybody. They're tired of the lip service. Even my young cops are saying it, and they haven't been on the department that long. When our shifts are over, we'll go home and spend time with our families. No more volunteering our time for special teams or special events.
It doesn't change what we do on the job at all. We have an oath, and we're going to do our jobs. But if something kicks up in the community and you want to call your black officers to cool it down, that's over. Same with the black organizations and their calls about helping out at their events--we're done with that, too.
My people are just as fed up with the NAACP and the Urban League as they are with our administration. They've been to see these guys on these two incidents. We've said, "You need to say something; these are witchhunts." They didn't do anything. In the Clemons situation, they dropped the ball. In the Banham situation, they dragged their feet. I don't know where their priorities are. They'll do things in the community up to a point, but in the case where we had a drug dealer die in police custody, they were beating down the mayor's door to find out why he died. But when you've got your own homegrown police officers being treated unfairly and subjected to these witchhunts, they can't do anything for them.
We feel really abandoned out there when it comes to those organizations. It takes one citizen in my neighborhood to tell me, "I'm glad you're on the job," and I know why I'm here. But as far as getting support from anyplace else, well, you won't. You're on your own.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.