Remember “Pointergate,” in which the Police Federation of Minneapolis accused Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges of flashing gang signs when she was pictured pointing at a constituent?
Pointergate seems almost quaint and comical compared to the naked attempts by the St. Paul police union last week to ruin the mayoral campaign of Melvin Carter III. The St. Paul Police Federation seems to have orchestrated a hit on Carter, using information gained when Carter was the victim of a burglary in August, to insinuate he was somehow responsible for a surge in crime.
The attack is a dangerous, and perhaps unprecedented, abuse of the power of the police federation for political means. It was so egregious that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who had thus far stayed out of the race, and mayoral candidate Pat Harris called for the entire police federation board to resign.
Here’s what you should know:
Carter is a leading candidate for mayor of St. Paul. He has steadfastly called for police accountability and reform. His father, Melvin Carter Jr., is a retired St. Paul police officer of 28 years who benefited from his membership in the union. In recent years, he has also been vocal about police accountability.
The federation has endorsed one of Carter’s opponents, Harris.
Last week, the St. Paul federation publicly posted a bizarre letter to Carter that criticized him — for being a victim of a crime.
On Aug. 15, Carter’s home in St. Paul was burglarized. The crook stole a video game, a box of cigars, two handguns and ammunition and a child’s tooth in a plastic bag: playing reverse Tooth Fairy.
After the break-in, Carter thanked the officers who responded and wrote about what it was like to be violated: “Some items I cherished were stolen from my home, including a locked box containing two handguns that my father passed down to me after he retired from the St. Paul Police Department,” he wrote in the Pioneer Press. “They are two of my most prized possessions, and realizing they had been taken was devastating to me.”
The open letter, published on the federation’s Facebook page, asked several questions of Carter, acting as if he was being uncooperative. The letter referred to a high rate of crime and two shootings in Carter’s neighborhood (an attempt to blame him?) and asked questions about the serial numbers of the guns, where he purchased them and why they weren’t secured. They even asked him if he’d taken a gun safety course, questions completely irrelevant to the crime at hand.
Many of the pertinent questions had in fact already been answered in Carter’s piece in the newspaper. According to supplemental police reports, the other questions were asked — and answered — by Carter at the time of the burglary.
There was one reason to ask those questions publicly: to smear Carter in an attempt to help their guy, Harris.
In fact, at the time the federation posted the letter, some of the details of the burglary were not public. So you have a situation in which the police federation is using information — again, from a victim of a crime — to smear that victim during a political campaign. That should make every citizen cringe in horror.
Two days after the open letter, fliers were sent out by a PAC supporting Harris that vaguely connected Carter, a former City Council member, to a rise in crime. “Over 100 shots have been fired since August 15 when Melvin Carter’s guns went missing,” the flier said. The PAC that paid for the flier was funded by, you guessed it, the police federation, among others. On Friday, due to backlash, the PAC disbanded.
A black man with guns; shots fired. Let’s tie them together and scare people.
At a time when police are looking for credibility in the black community, this was a shocking and shameless tactic that harms the community and police.
One St. Paul officer learned I was writing a column on the issue and called me.
“I’m spitting mad,” said the officer, who did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation from his own union leaders. “We’ve always endorsed candidates, but it seems we’ve gone from endorsements to trying to ruin a candidate.”
The officer said other cops were shocked by the letter and flier. They were not notified by the federation, and no vote was taken. He said the behavior not only insinuates a link between Carter and crime, but also a link between the federation’s behavior and beat cops.
“This is actually dangerous for cops,” he said. “They approach people on the street, and the people [link them] to this letter.”
Even if the information in the letter was obtained legally, it’s still “weaponizing of information” for personal gain. “This is not the St. Paul way,” said the officer.
The mayoral candidate’s father, Carter Jr., was disturbed by the attack.
“I have been saying over the past several years that POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training board) and the Police Federation are the biggest threats to reform that we have,” said Carter Jr.
“One of the things my whole family agrees on is that the community has to trust the police, and that the police have to have impeccable credibility,” Carter Jr. added. “I’ve got real skin and blood equity in this police department. The department is the agency we need to go to at times of crisis and victimization. If you use personal information against someone it violates that trust; it’s borderline criminal.”
“It’s hard to see the agency I love attack the family I love,” Carter Jr. said.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin