David Carr's 'First Big Break' in the Twin Cities Reader Revisited

UPDATE: Journalist David Carr passed away in the New York Times newsroom on February 12, 2015 at the age of 58.

Earlier this week, Minneapolis alt-weekly alumnus David Carr revisited his investigative journalism debut on Mediabistro's video series "My First Big Break."

Carr, now a media columnist for the New York Times, was wrapping up a seven-year track at the University of Minnesota when he heard about a guy who had taken a beating from a pair of the Minneapolis Police Department's finest thumpers. Carr decided he'd investigate it, and try to sell the story to the since-defunct Twin Cities Reader. It was an ambitious endeavor, especially given he was so inexperienced he didn't know that "a lot" was two words (luckily a young David Brauer, also a Reader alumnus, was there to show him the ropes).

As it happens, City Pages inherited back issues of the Reader after it shuttered its office doors, and after some digging, we were able to excavate it from the archives room.

First, here's the video, via Mediabistro:

The story, "Citizen Trebtoske vs. The Police vs. The Mayor vs. The Council," ran on the cover of the February 4, 1982, issue of the Reader. It's a great investigative dive into an arrest gone very wrong, and a man who made the mistake of speaking out.

Here's how it begins:

A crowed gathered to witness a routine southside arrest. Two cops stopping a car with three black males and two children. Something began to go wrong...words flew...tempers flared...and the arrest became an "incident." The locals didn't like what they saw. But they were resigned. In situations such as this the die was cast at the outset.

The locals watched and bitched, but they had seen bad action before and they all knew better than to step out and confront a hyped cop. All except Pete Trebtoske.

He was a visitor from another part of town and had seen enough. He stepped out of the crowd and asked the police the wrong question.

"Why did you have to do that?"

The question bought Trebtoske a trip downtown. A short stop at the jail for booking and then over to the hospital to get the answer to his question looked at.

On July 29 at about 8:45 p.m. Pete Trebtoske and about 20 onlookers witnessed the arrest of three black males at the corner of 22nd St. and Third Ave. There was an argument with the third man and a scuffle broke out. Trebtoske felt the man was beaten without provocation and he spoke up. Trebtoske claims he too was then brutalized.

Not a bad first story. The piece goes on to describe the inner-city shitstorm that ensued after the incident, and offers a pretty interesting look into the politics of the Minneapolis Police Department at the time. Writes Carr:

A straw poll of the rank and file of the Minneapolis police would lead one to believe that [then Minneapolis police chief Tony] Bouza ranks slightly below a $20 hooker on the integrity scale.

"[Bouza] shows more respect to the fags in this town than he does for the guys that work for him," said one 10-year veteran.

Bouza responds, "That is a bunch of crap. I love cops, they do a terrific job but sometimes they speak great nonsense."

We scanned the whole story in for those interested, which you can read by clicking here. A small section of the page didn't make it, but c'mon, we're dealing with ancient texts here.

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