Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Art Knight gave half a quote to the paper the other week.

He was talking about a defunct diversity program that used to encourage minority applicants to put their law enforcement degrees to good use, here in the city that killed George Floyd.

This is a town where an officer felt comfortable kneeling on a Black man's neck for more than 9 minutes while onlookers cried out for mercy. If something doesn't change about the way Minneapolis recruits, trains and promotes its police, Knight said, "you're just going to get the same old white boys."

That didn't go over well with the white boys.

The Minneapolis Police Federation called for a "thorough investigation into the racially charged comments." This is same Police Federation that could not understand why north Minneapolis neighbors got so upset over the Christmas tree in the Fourth Precinct lobby. The one the officers decorated with crime scene tape, menthol cigarettes and garbage.

Nothing Knight said was racist and nothing he said was inaccurate. This is a nation built on root-deep racism, where white boys are still the default assumption for roles in society from police officer to president.

Anyone can be cruel, prejudiced, ignorant, or overly glib in a newspaper quote. But Knight was making an important point about an uncomfortable topic. That point got lost in the uproar that followed. The death of George Floyd could have started a discussion about how it feels to be policed in Minneapolis. How it feels to be afraid of the people who are sworn to protect you.

"You don't know how we do [expletive] in Minneapolis."

Those were the words an off-duty Ramsey County sheriff's officer said he heard from a Minneapolis police officer who pulled a gun on him and roughed him up during an encounter downtown last year. The Ramsey County officer, Andrew Johnson, filed suit against the city in federal court this week.

It could have been the start of a discussion about how it feels to police Minneapolis. To be the one people call in the worst moments of their lives, when shots ring out, when someone who should love you hurts you instead, when a child goes missing, when you spot something in the river that might be a body. How it felt to be in the Third Precinct, texting final farewells home just in case, right before everything burned.

Or you could admit nothing, deny everything and counterattack.

In Ramsey County, three police unions have filed complaints against the sheriff's spokesman, because he endorsed House DFL candidate John Thompson, who made headlines months later at a protest outside the home of police union President Bob Kroll, where the crowd smashed piñata effigies of both Kroll and his wife.

Faced with the furious backlash in the ranks last week, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo demoted Knight from his role as chief of staff.

What everyone might want to do right now, is step away from the keyboards.

Ronal Serpas has led police departments from Nashville to New Orleans to the Washington State Patrol. After working for years between clashing mayors and city councils and their police unions, he teaches in the criminology department at Loyola University New Orleans.

"Sometimes you would hope that everyone involved could just take a deep breath," Serpas said by e-mail. "Unions are often criticized for defending what's perceived as the indefensible of their members' actions. Chiefs are often critiqued for their decisions as well. Calm reflection in both instances would advance the best in all of us."

Then, maybe, it will be time for some of those uncomfortable conversations.


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