The arrest of Al Flowers at his house early Saturday morning deserves an outside investigation, said leaders of the local chapters of the NAACP and the Urban League.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the Urban League offices on Plymouth Avenue North Tuesday morning, local NAACP president Jerry McAfee said an independent investigation is necessary after Flowers was arrested and charged with assault on a police officer and obstruction. Flowers was hospitalized after the arrest with cuts to his scalp and face; an officer was bitten during the arrest and required medical attention as well, according to a police union spokesman.
"We want to sit at the table and we choose that investigator together," said McAfee. "Then I think we can begin to talk about establishing some trust with the police department."
Flowers has not yet been charged with a crime; he was released from jail pending the outcome of a police investigation.
The arrest has thrown Flowers, 55, into the spotlight once again, a position he's held off-and-on over the years while running for mayor in 2009, suing (and losing) a city council member for free speech violations, hosting a city-cable television show and publicly criticizing the police department. He has served on the Police Community Relations Council, a group formed by federal mandate to improve communication between the police and the community. It disbanded in 2008 after five years of work.
Several people who spoke Tuesday said the fallout from Flowers' arrest has damaged relations between the black community and the Minneapolis Police Department.
"For a man to be beat down in his own home like that is a reminder of how far we haven't come as a community and as a country," said Scott Gray, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League. "We will walk with Al to the end to be sure that justice is served."
"This is old in our community," said Spike Moss, who ran the meeting. "We have suffered from the brutality of police across this country."
"The majority of [Minneapolis police officers] are nice people who protect and serve," said Abdizirak Bihi, who represented the Somali community. "But the problem of a few others that are not weeded out of the department continues to drive the department down the road of fear and lack of trust."
Flowers himself had spoken about the need to restore trust between the black community and the Minneapolis Police Department at a series of recent meetings of his organization, the Community Standards Initiative. At a meeting earlier this month, several people who attended the meeting had hoped to help the department find more black candidates for the MPD's recruitment efforts,among other things.
Three Minneapolis police officers were at that meeting, and one of them, Lt. Rick Zimmerman, was also present Tuesday morning at the Urban League. Zimmerman spoke to Flowers directly Tuesday during a portion of the meeting that was broadcast live on local radio station KMOJ. Keeping his comments brief, Zimmerman said "I'm sorry this happened," before shaking hands with Flowers and getting a hug from him in return.
Speaking to a reporter after the meeting, Zimmerman said the head of the assault unit, Lt. Art Knight, is overseeing the investigation of Flowers' arrest. Knight was also present at Flowers' CSI meeting earlier this month.
"We need time to work through it," Zimmerman said of Flowers' case. "It’s going to take a long time. I just hope that the community realizes that Lt. Art Knight, Commander Johnson, Deputy Chief Arneson are all fair, I mean really fair," Zimmerman said, speaking of the police officials who are looking at the case. "They’re going to make sure that it’s a complete investigation. I wanted to personally tell Al that I’m sorry this happened, but I’m not a department spokesman."
The department has had no official comment on the case beyond a statement from Chief Janeé Harteau at a press conference on Saturday, when she twice referred to the arrest as a "distraction" from the work she's done to strengthen public safety. Her handling of the case has been heavily criticized by Flowers' family and supporters, including his son, Al Flowers, Jr., who told people gathered at the Urban League on Tuesday that the arrest has been hard on their family. He then thanked several city council members, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek for their support over the past several days before singling out Harteau for criticism.
"To the chief," Flowers Jr. said, "you seem to have a problem with saying my dad's name whenever you give an interview: his name is Al Flowers, he's a father of five and a grandfather of six. Me and my family find it very disturbing when a vicious beating such as this is described with words such as 'distraction.'"
Flowers spoke last, thanking people for their support as he stood at the front of the room where posters on the wall read"We love you, Al!" and "Hands off Al Flowers!"
"I'm still in disbelief of what happened," said Flowers.