Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak and the City Council didn’t miss their water until folk in San Antonio started nosing around the well. Then, all of a sudden, hizzoner and company scrambled like cats scratching to cover up shit on a glass floor. Too late. Minneapolis Police Department Chief William McManus had applied for and accepted the job as San Antonio’s Chief of Police and was now in the wind. Now, there is plenty enough egg to go around on the faces of Rybak and the circle-jerking City Council .
McManus was wooed and ushered in as, literally, the great white hope: a top-cop willing and able to confront and counteract the institutionalized racism that has long characterized American police forces. Quickly, it grew clear that community leaders of color were, if not unconditionally in love with McManus, a lot happier than they had been with his predecessor, Robert Olson, who turned a blind eye to racial profiling and police brutality as well as a deaf ear to mounting complaints about both. And not a minute too soon. Minneapolis minorities had raised so much hell about discrimination that federal mediation and the Police Community Relations Council were mandated to avoid the government stepping in and taking over the MPD.
When McManus walked in the door kicking ass and taking names, putting in check those white officers suspected of wrongdoing, promoting cops of color (including Lt. Michael Davis, head of Internal Affairs Division), it all suddenly got too real for Mayor Rybak, who couldn’t look good to voters of color, not to mention white folk of conscience, and kiss the police union’s behind all at the same time. He stood behind McManus with all the staunch support of a second-guessing milquetoast. And took his sweet time about offering the man a new contract.
So, now San Antonio has a brand new chief of police and Minneapolis has installed assistant chief Tim Dolan as interim head cop, a plug hustled up to stick in a badly leaking dam.
“It’s the city’s loss,” says Jayne Khalifa, executive director of the Department of Civil Rights. “Chief was able to do something in a very short period of time that many police chiefs have not been able to do. And that was, first of all, to win the support of residents.” With Natalie Johnson Lee gone from the Council and community liaison Kinshasha Kambui gone from Rybak’s staff, Khalifa quite arguably is the lone person of color with any integrity holding a politically significant job downtown. She notes, “One of the areas where the police department has been most highly criticized has been the vitriolic relations [it has] had with the communities. He was certainly able to bridge that gap.” Khalifa adds, “If it’s unclear whether you’re going to have a job, it would be in your best interest to look for another job. [No one should be] surprised that he began to pursue other options, when it was not clear what his longevity was going to be in the City of Minneapolis.” She sums up, “A lot of community people are going to be very disappointed, because one of [McManus’] real strengths was being able to connect with and communicate with the community. The chief was good for the City and the City is going to have difficulty replacing a person that has [his] kind of credibility … [which] was not necessarily valued in the police department.”
Michelle Gross, who heads up the watchdog outfit Communities United Against Police Brutality, doesn’t give McManus a straight A, but acknowledges, “He attempted to diversify the police force and [did] so in the area of police leadership.” Her complaint? “[The chief] has not fulfilled the promise he made to hold brutal police accountable. In part, this is because he never had the full backing of the City Council and the mayor. I also believe it was a lack of will on his part. After the Duy Ngo incident, he found it easier to just go along with the police federation.” She’s talking about the Asian plain clothes cop who was gunned down by his brothers in blue who saw skin color first and never bothered to ask questions, resulting in political white-washing that has yet to hold anyone on the force definitely accountable. Gross goes on to assert, “[McManus] failed to really move forward in diversifying the force, though I don’t hold him responsible for this, since he was undermined in his efforts by the mayor. And because it would have taken longer than two years to accomplish this goal.” She is most disappointed in the chief’s “actions to undermine the Civilian Review Authority. In nearly every sustained CRA case, McManus refused to discipline the officers involved. This sends a strong—and very damaging—message to the rank-and-file that police misconduct is acceptable to police leadership. This will be the legacy the community will have to recover from.”
When word got out that McManus was serious about saving his ass by jumping ship, instead of twisting in the wind until someone, somehow decided to have his back, Rybak and the council called a virtual state of emergency to try and keep him. Damn fools. Typical of this cosmetic metropolis, they brought in strong talent, jerked him around, then couldn’t understand why he wasn’t goin’ for the okey-doke. There’s no denying that Gross has some good points. Still, any way you slice it, Mayor R. T. Rybak and the City Council screwed up. Big time.