Bob & Weave
LAST TUESDAY MINNEAPOLIS Police Chief Bob Olson held a press conference to announce that four black cops would be put to work in the homicide unit to help solve the murder of 11-year-old Byron Phillips. For the ever-politic chief it was a felicitous maneuver on two counts: a chance to assuage a northside black community grown increasingly accustomed to unsolved killings and at the same time to score points with a contingent of black cops angry at their ghetto niche in his department.
But something went awry. Two days later the Star Tribune ran a feature indicating that unnamed black officers had taken a look at the homicide investigation and were so impressed with the handling of things that they were staying out of it.
This scene occurs against the backdrop of a mounting antagonism between the Olson administration and its black cops that has already led the Minneapolis Black Police Officers Association to invite a citizens' panel into the fray as an intermediary between its members and the chief. Sources on that panel tell a very different tale about what transpired in the days following the Phillips killing. As the story goes, panel member and Urban League President Gary Sudduth met with Olson and other police and city officials on Monday, the day after the shooting, and in the course of talks he secured an agreement from Olson to appoint a black officer, Sgt. Gerald Moore, to head the investigation.
When word of that deal reached the homicide unit, it was reportedly received in less than a gracious spirit. Threats of a walkout ensued. In due course Olson decided to back off. (According to panel member Ron Edwards, who asked Olson about the matter at a Tuesday night meeting, the chief said simply, "I made a political decision not to do it that way.") In the end two sheriff's department detectives ended up in charge of the investigation, apparently under the terms of a city/county reciprocity agreement worked out last year in the midst of Minneapolis's record murder count.
Following what was naturally seen as a double-cross on the chief's part, the four officers whose appointment to homicide he had announced on Tuesday proceeded to turn down the assignments. This left Smilin' Bob in a PR-challenged position that the Star Tribune appears to have helped him wriggle out of by virtue of its lukewarm reportage. (Eventually, says Edwards, two black officers were compelled to accept the homicide assignment.) But the black cops certainly know the score even if the broader public doesn't, and it would seem that a bad situation has just gotten worse. Meanwhile the citizens' group is proceeding with its inquiry. It has asked Olson's office for a number of documents and answers, and plans to issue a report within six months. According to Edwards, the panel's recommendations could well include advising the black cops to sue the department. "And this latest incident doesn't help in that regard," he says. "It's consistent with what the black officers are saying about this chief--that he's not a man of his word."
PITY BOB DOLE: Every time he looks up, he is greeted by the image of Bill Clinton gleefully passing him on his right. At this juncture two things are abundantly evident about the presidential campaign. Short of dragooning Colin Powell into service as his VP, which is unlikely in the extreme, there is nothing Dole can do to take the race into his hands; and Clinton is nonetheless running scared.
The threat to Clinton is his own Arkansas legacy. Now that prosecutors have secured their first Whitewater convictions, they are in a position to move closer to the Clintons themselves. As Newsweek put it in an unusually prescient analysis last week, "By winning convictions and threatening prison, [prosecutors] seek to 'flip' low-level defendants and 'turn' them as witnesses for the prosecution. The case is like 'climbing a pyramid with the
Clintons on top,' says James B. Stewart, author of Blood Sport, the bestselling chronicle of the early days of Whitewater. 'I'd say the prosecutors are about halfway up.'" Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has been talking to Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, whose ill health makes the prison time he now faces the likely equivalent of a death sentence. Tucker knows a good deal about Whitewater and about Clinton's alleged offer of federal jobs to quiet Arkansas state troopers who were privy to his many affairs.
The currently pending trial of two more Arkansas bankers, Herby Branscum and Robert Hill, promises to turn up dirt on dubious contributions to Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial re-election bid and could yield an indictment of Clinton attorney and adviser Bruce Lindsey. And looming over the proceedings is the as-yet unremarked matter of Mena, the Arkansas airstrip used as a base for Contra-related arms- and drug-running during the 1980s. There has been talk that some of the drug moneys involved were laundered through Clinton associates and that some of the proceeds may have found their way into his campaign coffers. The House Banking Committee is currently investigating Mena, and committee chair Jim Leach has reserved the right to hold hearings. There's no
telling whether any of the potential scandals will reach critical mass before November, but in the face of it all Clinton means to stay well-guarded against the additional burden of policy attacks from the right. The possibility that the public, given a choice between a scandal-ridden Republican and a scandal-free Republican, might choose the latter seems not to have occurred to him. Dole may be hapless, but Clinton can still beat Clinton.
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