Council on Black Minnesotans takes on St. Cloud racial profiling

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Public hearing to address allegations of ongoing police harassment of people of color

According to many Black St. Cloud residents, racial profiling of persons of color by St. Cloud police officers is still going on. The Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) will hold a public hearing on racial profiling October 9 at St. Cloud State University (SCSU). Myrle Cooper, an outspoken critic of St. Cloud city officials and the university over the years, spoke to the CBM board during an August 14 meeting at the Martin Luther King Center in St. Paul.

The Council on Black Minnesotans’ public hearing on racial profiling will be held on Tuesday, October 9 at St. Cloud State University, 720 4th Ave. S., St. Cloud, MN. For more information, contact the university at 320-308-0121 or the Council on Black Minnesotans at 651-642-0812.

“Our responsibility [is] to hear and be able to voice these concerns, findings, etc. to the [Minnesota state] legislature and others,” says Lester Collins, executive director of the CBM. He is working with such state lawmakers as State Sen. Mee Moua in introducing anti-racial profiling legislation in the upcoming 2008 legislative session. “We have to be looking at some kind of sanction or repercussion for racial profiling,” says Collins.

Dr. Luke Tripp, professor and chair of the Community Studies Department at St. Cloud State University, was walking home from his office in the late afternoon of July 9 when two city police officers stopped him.

“I was just walking, and the police officers pulled out of the student parking lot of the [St. Cloud Tech] high school and signaled for me to stop.” A White female officer then told him why she stopped him, Dr. Tripp recalls. “Her words were, ‘I found that you were carrying a purse,’” he says. This “purse” actually was a book bag that he regularly uses to carry books and papers.

In a July 10 letter to St. Cloud Police Chief Dennis Ballantine, Tripp calls the police stop a case of racial harassment. “The fact that I, a university professor and senior citizen, was stopped on a busy street in mid-afternoon and publicly humiliated by police officers because they perceived me as a suspected purse thief indicates the high level of anti-Black police profiling in the City of St. Cloud,” the professor surmises.

In his 18 years living in St. Cloud, Tripp says he had never before been stopped by police: “I walk to my job every day,” he says, adding that the “walking while Black” incident was his first. However, he has heard from students and other Black faculty and staff members who were stopped while driving.

“For instance, once there were two White girls and a Black guy [riding] down the main drag, and the police officers signaled for the driver, the White woman, to pull over. After the officer asked the driver for her license and registration, then he asked the Black student in the back for his ID.”

SCSU associate education professor Michael Davis, also an 18-year city resident, recalls a couple of times St. Cloud police officers stopped him for no reason. Three years ago while returning from a workout on a Sunday morning, “I saw [the police] following me as I made a right turn, then a left turn, another right and another left. Then they put on their horn for me to pull over.”

After informing the officers that he was a SCSU professor, “They said they wanted to run a check on my car,” continues Davis. “I told them they can run a check all they want because I am squeaky clean.”

A second such occurrence took place while he was going to his office, Davis says. Throughout the stop, the officer talked to him with his hand on his gun.

“This has been going on for a long time,” he says of racial profiling. “It seems so funny to them [when they stop Blacks unnecessarily]. They have this power to do this to you.”

Racial profiling “has been going on for a long time,” Davis points out. Some officers “get real nasty. They stop you and laugh, but I don’t find anything funny about it at all.” He wished more Blacks and persons of color would report racial profiling incidents.

“There are incidents that people of color won’t report,” says Davis, adding that he often suggest that they should because as long as they do not, city officials can easily dismiss the problem.

American-born Black males as well as African males tend to be targets for racial profiling more than any other ethnic group, notes SCSU associate professor Semya Hakim, who has been in St. Cloud for 10 years.

Despite Chief Ballantine’s contention that he does not condone racial profiling, Hakim and other Blacks do not believe that he takes the issue seriously. Tripp says it was not until two weeks later that the chief responded to his letter. When he and Hakim later met with the police chief in August, she left with the impression that Ballantine does not recognize racial profiling as a “systematic problem” within the police department.

“He says [that] he is against it,” Hakim says of the police chief, who according to her said “that he doesn’t know any officer actually doing it.”

SCSU environmental studies professor Anthony Akubue does not support Hakim in her depiction of Ballantine. He served on the search committee that recommended him for police chief and says, “I know the man [well].”

He admits that racial profiling “is a reality in St. Cloud. I have not experienced it, but I know people who have because they tell me.” However, Akubue points out that some Blacks use racial profiling to cover up their problems with the law. “I caution that just because someone is a minority does not [mean] that they are saints,” he says.

Still, being a person of color living in St. Cloud is stressful for many reasons, racial profiling notwithstanding, says Davis. “You go into a store and people follow you around. I am a citizen of the city, and I did not do anything [wrong]. I felt stressed out. I felt depressed.”

“When I first moved here in 1989,” adds Tripp, “there were just a handful of Blacks living in St. Cloud.” As more Blacks moved to the area, especially from urban areas such as Chicago and Milwaukee, “the White community then felt like they were being invaded — that Blacks were making the community unsafe.” Many Whites began using code words in referring to Blacks such as “people from Chicago,” the professor remembers.

The hearing is not a direct response to the Tripp incident, says Collins, “but it appears that racial profiling is the primary focus of this particular meeting.”

Davis says he wants the hearing to be a positive step to put more pressure on St. Cloud City officials to address racial profiling and other such issues. “They really aren’t taking us [Blacks] serious. They listen to everyone else except those who have to go through [racial profiling].”

He and other Black citizens in St. Cloud want change. So does Collins.

St. Cloud should be “[as] healthy and safe as any other city in Minnesota,” Collins concludes. “Those who are doing community policing have a responsibility to do their job more equitably and more justly.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com, or go to his blog at www.wwwchallman.blogspot.com.