Day of celebration or day of infamy?


“A mixed bag” may be the most charitable way to describe the civil rights policies and practices on display at the Friday, July 25 Minneapolis City Council meeting.

Early in the meeting, city council members celebrated the appointment of the city’s first African American fire chief, Alex Jackson. By noon, however, the council had adjourned to discuss a discrimination suit brought by five senior African American police officers against the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department, and Police Chief Tim Dolan. Sandwiched in between was a controversial resolution that activists claim restricts the civil rights of protestors at public assemblies.

Contradictions between fire, police dept. employment practices?

The appointment of Jackson, a 27-year veteran of the fire department, is a historic one commemorated by several on the council. Council Member Ralph Remington (Ward 10) publicly thanked Mayor R.T. Rybak and Rocco Forte, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Management for the City of Minneapolis, for their fairness in hiring procedures before adding that he looked forward to the day when Minneapolis hires its first Black police chief and, “perhaps by the end of this year,” the nation elects its first Black president.

The employment practices of the MPD were later the subject of council scrutiny as it adjourned to discuss a possible $2 million settlement in the case of Arradondo et al. v. City of Minneapolis et al. The case, filed in district court last December, alleges systematic racial discrimination in employment including “[MPD’s] hiring practices, its promotional practices, its training and educational practices, its assignment practices, its disciplinary practices, [and] its overtime compensation practices…” The suit maintains that these practices violate the 2003 federally mandated Memorandum of Agreement.

The lawsuit, brought by Lieutenant Medaria Arradondo, Lieutenant Donald Harris, Sergeant Charles Adams, Sergeant Dennis Hamilton, and Lieutenant Lee Edwards, claims the officers have not only endured a hostile work environment (including the receipt of a threatening hate letter signed “KKK” and circulated through interoffice mail in January 1992), but that officers also faced retaliation (including demotion and restricted training and advancement opportunities) by Chief Dolan when they reported such actions.

Although the suit alleges that the MPD has a history of discrimination in its treatment of African American officers, it asserts that these incidents “have become more severe, pervasive, systemic and institutionalized” since Dolan’s appointment as chief.

The suit further alleges that Dolan “has fired, demoted or transferred every African American male officer who held the position of Captain, Inspector, or higher rank,” adding that at around the time of filing only one African American officer in the MPD still held a rank above lieutenant — and that officer was scheduled to retire soon. “After that date,” the suit continues, “[Chief] Dolan will have an all-White police command” in Minneapolis.

Months before filing the suit, some of the officers met with Michael Jordan, director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, to report their concerns. According to the complaint, Jordan “was dismissive of these concerns, never followed up on the report, and later publicly dismissed the officers’ allegations as those of ‘disgruntled cops near the end of their careers.’”

Although the City Council, Mayor Rybak, and staff met behind closed doors for over three hours, the council adjourned without reaching a settlement. The case now goes back to U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Richard Nelson for further action; in the meantime, council members have been instructed not to discuss the case.

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