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.
"This city has paid millions of dollars in police incidents rather than having the political will to change the culture of the department," he said. "How long will we continue to pay lawsuits and then allow those folks to continue their jobs?"
Audit goals missed?
Edwards and Clyde Bellecourt, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), said they plan to send a letter to the Justice Department asking for an audit to see if the department complied with a memorandum of understanding signed in 2003 that set up a Police Community Relations Council.
That council continued for five years between 2004 and 2008. Bellecourt and Edwards were among the co-chairs, and Edwards said a majority of the community members who served on that committee now favor an audit.
"We feel that the agreement made under color of law has been violated," said Edwards. "They have not done enough recruitment, promotions or hiring of African-Americans and others of color." He said the department also never met the criteria for being "racially biased-free," as evidenced by the Green Bay and Apple Valley incidents. He said the group also may ask that the department be put under Justice Department trusteeship.
After being told he could not attend the meeting with Harteau, Edwards told reporters he believes he's been put on "an enemy's list" within the department.
He said he believed one reason he was kept out was the complaint he and eight other blacks filed with the department over an alleged beating and racial slurs by officers at the Elks Lodge in north Minneapolis in April 2012. Bellecourt said the department, then led by former Police Chief Tim Dolan, did nothing to correct the problem of police brutality.
Harteau replaced Dolan in November.
"Nothing has really changed," Bellecourt said. "We're back to day one."
Bellacourt said Harteau is "a good person, but I think she is dealing with a group of police officers who refuse to cross the blue line — if they witness something that is criminal or illegal, they are not going to report it."
'A little more hope'
Bill Means, an AIM leader invited to the meeting with Harteau, said he was open to the idea of an audit. "I see the commitment of the chief," he added. Means was also a co-chair of the Police Community Relations Council.
Arnetta Phillips, director of Shiloh Temple's community outreach, who was one of Harteau's invitees, said the meeting "gave me a little more hope. This is not going to be brushed aside. … Change happens, but it happens gradually." "The dialogue was very transparent and candid, and we left this meeting with the greatest hope," said Bishop Richard Howell of Shiloh Temple.
John Delmonico, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the police union, also attended the meeting with Harteau.
"If there are things we can do differently or things we're doing right, let's talk about doing them," Delmonico said.