A racial war of words from the 2005 political campaign in north Minneapolis is boiling anew in a U.S. District Courtroom this week. Former local TV host Al Flowers is seeking damages from the city for taking him off public-access television for a month after a guest on his show used a racial epithet to describe City Council Member Don Samuels.
Flowers sued Samuels and political ally Paul Ostrow, contending they retaliated against him and violated his First Amendment right to free speech by pursuing his removal from the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network. At issue was the language of Booker T. Hodges, who went on Flowers' show "Uhuru -- The Real State of the City."
During the trial, the jury saw the show in which Hodges, now a Dakota County sheriff's deputy, called Samuels a "house Negro" and encouraged viewers to "kill the house [racial epithet]. That's what we're trying to do on this show."
The show aired in May 2005 at a time when Samuels was in a tough reelection match with then-Council Member Natalie Johnson Lee. Because of new ward boundaries from redistricting, the two sitting black council members were forced to run against each other for the north Minneapolis seat.
Samuels, a Jamaican immigrant, had drawn the ire of some black residents in 2005 when he referred to himself as being privileged, having grown up in the "big house" as a son of a pastor. Flowers supported Johnson Lee, who briefly attended the trial this week.
Samuels won the election.
Flowers testified that when he was taken off the air for a month, he lost viewership and was humiliated. "The whole idea was to paint you into a position like you're a militant or something," he said.
In her closing argument today, Flowers' lawyer Jill Clark will tell jurors that they have an opportunity to help protect the First Amendment.
"Harry Truman said it best: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' It's improper to stifle speech in a political campaign to gain advantage," she said.
But throughout the trial, assistant city attorneys Jim Moore and Frank Reed have argued that Samuels reacted out of fear for his life because of Hodges' comments. As producer for the show, Flowers was responsible for its content.
In questioning Flowers, Moore asked whether it was true that when Malcolm X used the racial epithet during his radical years, it was to describe a person "to be eliminated." Flowers said he didn't know.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747