Two weeks after Jordan melee, tensions remain high

Michael Krieger

Not far from the scene of last month’s hostilities, Walter Still stood on a north Minneapolis street corner and described the frustration within the Jordan neighborhood.

“Tension is building around here,” said Still, 47, motioning toward the spot where an angry crowd assaulted reporters and damaged property on Aug. 22. The melee began after an 11-year-old boy was injured from a ricocheted police bullet.

“I’m just hoping that was just a spark and not a flame that’s building – it can get worse,” Still said.

The incident was the latest in a string of violent confrontations that have strained relations between police and minority communities. To mend the rift, some residents have called for federal intervention and stronger civilian oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department.

“There are good people on the police, but somehow, every administration and city council have tolerated those people within the police force that make it bad for everyone else and threaten to put this city on a path toward riot and additional bloodshed,” said community activist Rev. William Smith during a recent city council meeting.

Last month, a shootout with police left resident Martha Donald and Minneapolis police officer Melissa Schmidt dead. In March, police shot and killed a mentally ill Somali man who was wielding a machete in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Susie Hartigan, research fellow at the University’s Institute on Race and Poverty, said racial profiling by police has also hurt relations.

“The perception in the community that people are being unfairly targeted is a factor that can damage the community’s trust with police,” she said.

Hartigan said studies have confirmed anecdotal evidence of profiling in the Twin Cities.

“What’s been found in Minneapolis and St. Paul is that there is disproportionate stopping of African-Americans by police,” she said.

“This is harming relations with the police by people who need the police the most,” Hartigan said.

Bringing the sides together

“We’re on this side and they’re way on that side,” said Michael Taylor, 19, who was biking along 26th Avenue in Jordan last Friday.

“That’s just how the neighborhood is,” he said.

To bring police and minority communities together and improve relations, some have requested an intermediary to address grievances with the police department.

Brett Buckner, a vice president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis branch, said his office requested an independent agency to review the Minneapolis tensions.

“We’re quite concerned with the recent rash of incidents that have taken place between both parties,” Buckner said. “We need an outside agency to have us both sit down and try to hammer out an agreement equitable to both sides.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson said he is open to federal mediation.

“I’ve been a friend and supporter of mediation for many, many years,” Olson said.

Patricia Campbell Glenn, a U.S. Department of Justice mediator, traveled to Minneapolis to speak with residents and city officials after the disturbance in Jordan.

Glenn said she believes residents perceive a disparity between police services and minority communities. Also, she said many feel there is no redress for those with complaints.

Mediation is a process through which community leaders and police officials discuss their grievances and sign a contract detailing ways to resolve their differences.

St. Paul underwent a similar mediation process in April 2001, after racial unrest prompted an NAACP request for a federal intermediary.

“Everyone wants a change in their community, everyone wants calm, everyone wants harmony,” Glenn said.

“Mediation and a written agreement is a way to get just that because it involves citizen participation and it involves elected officials,” she said.

Civilian oversight

The Civilian Review Authority was formed in 1990 to provide citizens with a means of investigating alleged police department misconduct.

The review authority’s budget was cut by $257,000 earlier this year, forcing it to operate with half its original resources. But even before the decrease, the department was criticized for ineffectiveness.

Throughout the summer, residents and city officials have worked to restore and strengthen civilian review.

During a Minneapolis City Council meeting Thursday, minority residents delivered more than an hour of testimony about the need for civilian oversight of the police.

Natonia Johnson helped develop the new review authority and said she was optimistic about its future.

“Is the Minneapolis Police Department perfect? No, it’s not, and we all know that,” Johnson said. “But I’m glad we still have a mechanism in place where the citizens can be heard.”

Others in the community argued the Civilian Review Authority needs more power to investigate complaints.

“We can do better and I think this council and the mayor’s leadership ought to really lead the way to do something different and positive, and be a real community,” Smith said.

Despite cuts in nearly all city departments, City Council Vice President Robert Lilligren said civil rights is the only entity in the mayor’s proposed budget that has been increased to handle the new workload.

“I’m very encouraged that within the civil rights department it will still be an independent venue for lodging these complaints,” Lilligren said.

Neighborhood perceptions

Under the early afternoon sun Friday, Francis Holloman, 44, walked along 26th Avenue with a message for her neighborhood.

“In order to make a change, you’ve got to get out there doing something about it,” she said.

Like many Jordan residents, Holloman is looking for ways to improve police relations.

“I don’t want a community where I’m too scared to go the corner store,” she said.

Teaching job skills, Holloman said, was the key to positive change.

“Then you won’t have people on the corner selling drugs,” she said.

Less than a block away, officer Scott Dahlquist of the Minneapolis Police Department was parked on a corner watching for drug activity.

“The open air drug business is like real estate – it’s all about location, location, location,” he said.

Dahlquist said a certain tension always exists with police, but many of the people he deals with are happy about the police presence.

Abraham Awaijane, owner of a convenience store on 26th Avenue and Knox Avenue, said he thinks the police are fair and are needed to “make sure they keep these guys under control.”

But others, such as Still, say police behavior can also be insulting and prejudicial.

“Minneapolis has got to do something about their attitude,” Still said. “They stereotype us as all the same.”

Michael Krieger welcomes comments at [email protected]