As Chief Janeé Harteau hosted a meeting of community leaders, activists vowed to seek federal audit of department.
Prominent community activists gathered in Minneapolis Wednesday, demanding a state and federal investigation of what they said is clear-cut racism within the city’s police force.
Their call came just hours before Police Chief Janeé Harteau held a closed-door meeting with 23 other community leaders as she begins a drive to improve relations between her department and city residents following two incidents in which off-duty officers hurled racial slurs during fights outside bars.
Five Minneapolis officers are now the subject of internal affairs investigations stemming from those altercations, which occurred between white off-duty officers and black men in Apple Valley and Green Bay, Wis. The encounters have helped reignite allegations that the department, which has a history of tense relations with minority communities, still harbors racial bias within its ranks.
Longtime civil rights activist Ron Edwards was among those not invited to the meeting with Harteau. He and others vowed to seek a U.S. Justice Department audit to see if the department complied with a 2003 memorandum of understanding after an earlier period of racial tensions.
Harteau announced after meeting with her Chief’s Citizens Advisory Council that its members will divide into subgroups to take up issues of community engagement, officer recruiting and hiring, and training and accountability. The group will reconvene in September to consider what new actions to take.
“We had some really candid dialogue,” Harteau said.
Asked about the exclusion of Edwards, Harteau said, “I would not exclude anybody, and if these community leaders behind me felt we needed to add somebody to the list for real change, then they’re welcome to add to that list.”
A council member, V.J. Smith, national president of the anti-violence group MAD DADS, said, “I think it is important to add people — Ron Edwards or anybody else who has information or resources. We are not trying to exclude anybody.”
The mood of the activists outside City Hall was decidedly skeptical.
“Maybe she only wants to hear from certain people,” said Mel Reeves, a columnist for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.
Reeves, speaking for a group of about a dozen prominent members of the Twin Cities’ black community, said the incidents involving the off-duty officers brought to light something the city has neglected to deal with for decades — racism among some police officers.
“It’s been revealed now. We don’t have to guess,” he said.
His group called for the state to investigate not only the Minneapolis police, but also St. Paul police and departments in several suburbs. They also called for the firing of officers who use racist language or excessive force.
Reeves said he believes the city’s elimination last year of the Civilian Police Review Authority, an agency that investigated claims of police misconduct, contributed to an attitude among some officers that they are above the law.
A replacement group, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, will have its first meeting next month, Harteau said.
The group also referred to the fatal shooting by police of a black man, Terrence Franklin, after a chase in Uptown in May. They said they believe that the confrontation wouldn’t have ended in gunfire if he had been white. The police “would have communicated with him,” said Daphne Bolden-Brown, a member of a group called Justice for Terrence.
Brian Herron, pastor of Zion Baptist Church of Minneapolis, characterized the Police Department’s relationship with the black community as poor.