A diverse cast of local luminaries, from civil rights crusader Josie Johnson to former Minneapolis top cop Janeé Harteau, watched Friday as history was made with the public swearing-in of the city’s first black police chief.
Medaria Arradondo, who was officially sworn in during a private ceremony at City Hall, held a public event at south Minneapolis’ Sabathani Community Center, blocks from his childhood home. After he took the oath, his daughter, Nyasia Arradondo, a local music artist, pinned on his badge.
Last month, the City Council voted unanimously to approve his nomination to serve out the rest of Harteau’s three-year term, which runs through January 2019.
As chief, he is faced with the dual challenge of fighting rising crime and fostering good relations with communities of color. He has promised to shake up a department culture that critics have said is insular and often unaccountable.
He also inherits a police force still dealing with the fallout from a controversial officer-involved shooting that led to Harteau’s ouster.
“Chief Arradondo, you have the language of the heart and the professional training of the law,” said Johnson. “The history of our relationship with the police is too often influenced by the racial history of America.”
She continued: “We hope the moment will open a new and much-needed chapter of police-community relations.”
When it was his turn to speak, Arradondo, who counts Johnson as one of his mentors, said she and other local black leaders had paved the way for him. He also thanked his parents, who he said raised their children to “take without forgetting and to give without remembering.”
He said he intends to “lead with integrity, to lead with dignity” and respect.
One of the speakers, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, noted the symbolism of hosting the event at Sabathani, a former junior high school near where Arradondo grew up.
“As we confront our history of race and racism here in Minneapolis, this chief brings perspective that is critical,” she said.
Her words were echoed by Mayor Betsy Hodges, who said the department was fortunate to have “someone who is from the community and of this community.”
At one point someone from the crowd yelled, “Good choice, Mayor!” to another round of applause, eliciting a friendly nod from Hodges.
Performances by a drumline-and-dance team, American Indian singers and Grammy Award-winning group Sounds of Blackness lent the affair a festive atmosphere.
Arradondo told a media gaggle he was grateful to Harteau for the opportunity to advance through the department. Harteau created a position for him, chief of staff, and later appointed him her No. 2, after Kris Arneson retired.