Our goal is to have a conversation about how we continue to work together to create effective, safe communities. We want husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents and neighbors to be safe. We don’t want our lifestyle and the choices we make to impinge on rights of others, harm or endanger other human beings. We believe that we have to take responsibility for what we do, decision by decision, day by day.
We think everyone should bear in mind that we have an obligation to ourselves and to each other. How do we, as citizens, do our part to create and maintain safe families, households and communities? What service and support ought we to expect from local and national law enforcement organizations?
John Harrington is St. Paul Police Chief; Tim Dolan is Minneapolis Police Chief. Tyrone Terrill heads the St. Paul Human Rights Department. They talked about their visions and roles to support us in the creation of community.
Tim Dolan was raised in North Minneapolis. He spent years as an officer on the street. He rose through the ranks and gained the respect of his peers every step of the way. People describe him as humble; a guy who celebrates the work of others more than his own. And he’s been a chief who is described as leading with honesty and compassion. His friends and admirers say that he both inspires the officers he leads and demands accountability. When Mayor R.T. Rybak appointed Dolan, he said that this appointment was one of the most important decisions that he would make as mayor. He also called it one of his easiest.
Chief Dolan recounted his youth in North Minneapolis: “I started out as a typical kid on the North Side, involved in just about everything and I had gotten into my fair share of trouble . . . I actually had a federal record as a kid. It was pretty easy to do; I burned up a mailbox. Big problem with that, though, was that my dad worked for the post office and I had an uncle who worked for the FBI. So I was in big trouble. A wayward fifteen year old kid — the community, just like they do today, through the church, through school, through sports — straightened me out.”
“I didn’t really think much about being a police officer,” Dolan continued, “When I went to college I was looking for the right hockey school, either St. Thomas or Bemidji. I ended up at St. Thomas. They have good teachers that actually get into your head. I owe that school a tremendous amount of respect. I graduated with a sociology degree and I was looking for a job. You look in the paper and nobody is looking for sociology major. I ended up working in probation in Hennepin County for about a year. I had a really good supervisor named Mary Ann Stark who said, ‘You know, I think you’d make a good cop.'”
Dolan said, “I took the test. I’ve always been looking [for] something around the corner that’s better, but I’ve never found anything. I’ve enjoyed every day. It’s been a thrill. I’ve been everywhere. I was on a SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] team; I was on the FBI SWAT team. I was on narcotics, I’ve been on patrol, I’ve been on training. I’ve touched about every base and it’s been never boring. It’s always exciting.”
Chief John Harrington was appointed St. Paul’s 39th police chief in July of 2004. Harrington began his career in law enforcement as an officer in 1977. He attended De La Salle High School in Chicago and earned bachelors from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Harrington majored in religion and minored in Chinese.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Harrington said, explaining his academic pursuits. He went on to get a Master of Arts in education degree from the College of St. Thomas and then attended the FBI National Academy.
“In an odd sort of way,” Chief Harrington said, “Tim and I both ended up in the same place. I’m a cop’s kid. My mom’s a social worker, my dad was a Cook County Deputy Sheriff who hated being a cop, but all of his friends were too. So as a kid I got to sit around and listen to these great big Chicago cops tell what I now realize were these atrocious lies about the doors they kicked in, the battles they won. But I ate this stuff up as a ten-twelve-year-old, and by thirteen, I knew that I wanted to be a cop. There was nothing else in the world that I wanted to be other than a professional hockey player. And when I eventually got to college to play hockey, I found out that was real unlikely.”
Harrington continued, “My parents told me that if I went to college, I’d grow out of this whole thing of wanting to become a cop. They were definitely averse to the idea of me being a cop in any way, shape or form. I got done with Dartmouth, and much like sociology, there’s not a lot of ads in the paper for religion majors. I’ve got a great background in Chinese, but at the time there wasn’t much call for that. So I applied all over the country looking for my first cop job. I tried New York. They had lain off 2,000 cops the year I graduated from college. I tried New Jersey; nothing there. I remembered having spent my summers in Stacy, Minnesota with my great aunt and uncle. They had taken me through Minneapolis and St. Paul. I still vividly remember it because it was summertime, I was a bored teenager and they were trying to keep me amused. So they were going to show me ‘the ghetto’ here. They’re driving me around through North Minneapolis and the Selby-Dale neighborhood of St. Paul. From where I grew up in Chicago, this looked like the Gold Coast in Chicago. All the houses were big. They had huge mansions, lots of cars with all their wheels on and no burglar bars. So I wrote back and I applied at the Minneapolis Police Department. They were just coming out of a desegregation decision, so they weren’t hiring and they had a hiring freeze. But somebody in the Minneapolis Police Department saw my letter and sent it to the St. Paul Urban League. St. Paul had just come out of a desegregation decision. They wrote me back to say it just so happened they were having a test. They invited me to fly in and take this test. I started taking tests and I kept passing them, much to my amazement. By July of ’77, I was starting Rookie School.”
Tyrone Terrell serves the City of St. Paul as the Human Rights Director. He is one of the conveners of the African American Leadership Council (AALC) in St. Paul. With other participants in the Million Man March a decade ago, the Men of M.A.R.C.H. (Men Are Responsible for Cultivating Hope) continue to meet weekly for networking and fellowship in the spirit of the Million Man March.
Terrell said that he has always known he would be doing civil rights work as his life’s work.
“At eight years old I knew I was going to do this job,” Terrell said in the broadcast interview. “That’s because I went down to what we call ‘the country’ in Missouri to visit my grandmother. We were walking down the street and I yanked away and ran to a grocery store. I said to the guy that I wanted some ice cream and pulled my money out. He told me, ‘Nigger, go ’round back.’ They had a room where they served Black people from. They had a little door where they opened up to give you a prescription. My grandma was crying and telling the guy that I didn’t know because I wasn’t from there. She was crying and apologizing. I was like, ‘Grandma, I got money.’ And he was saying he didn’t care about my money.”
“That whole thing stuck with me,” Terrell continued, “With last Thursday being the 39th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, I recall being a fourteen-year-old kid hearing Walter Cronkite coming telling the world that Dr. King had just been killed. I remember seeing the tears in his eyes. And my mom — I sat there with her for over two hours — immobilized by the news that Dr. King had been killed. In our day everybody in the Black community had a picture of John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King. So it was just a tremendous loss.”
Terrell said that it was thirty years ago that Bill Wilson, head of the State Department of Human Rights, hired him and now Senator Norm Coleman.
“I think you have to have a calling to do a job well,” Terrell added, “The one thing I know about both chiefs here is that they both have a tremendous passion for the work. I think for anybody who is a public servant, it is not about the job title but about the community. You want to make the community better. Bill Wilson said to me, ‘When you leave a job, have you made it better?’ If it stays the same, if the community stays the same, then you haven’t done a good job. But if you make it better, as the chief of police, or as the human rights director, then we’ve done our job. Every public servant has a duty to the taxpayers, who are really our bosses. We’re servants to the people.”
Chief Dolan said that young people today seem to have less ability to deal with conflict than a generation ago. He said, “Growing up on the North Side, we had plenty of conflict and we also had guns. I remember seeing my first zip guns on the street as a teenager. I think the kids today deal with conflict much differently than they did back then. There seems to be a shorter fuse and less of an ability to deal with something and get help with dealing with something. Gang affiliation today is not clear like it used to be. It’s mixed. If it’s a conflict with a classmate at school or a neighbor kid we will say could be rival gangs but it’s more a case of not being able to deal with conflict appropriately.”
“They’re quick to pull out the gun and fire shots at somebody, not always trying to kill that person,” Dolan added. “There is a lot of shooting at somebody, shooting in a general direction; there are different levels. But they’re quicker to shoot that gun off.”
Chief Harrington said that part of the problem is that the drug market has provided more guns and easier access for kids to have guns. He said that when he grew up in Chicago it wasn’t unusual for the older gang bangers to do random killing. He said he grew up in Black P-stone Nation territory, and where he went to high school was in Gangster Disciple territory.
“I was pretty used to crossing different turfs,” Dolan continued, “If I was to run afoul with one person or another during that time frame I could expect a beating or a fight, but I really didn’t have any reason to expect that I would get shot. Over the years it seems like the gangs and the drug market provided the money to bring guns in and to give kids more access to guns that the old-timers never would have thought of. You add to that the lack of skills in how to settle conflict — I think there are a lot of different ways of settling conflict. I got into my share of fist fights in school when I was growing up. When the fight was over, we were done. We’d get back up, we might not like each other, but it was over with. I wasn’t going to go shoot up their house and they weren’t going to come shooting up my house. They weren’t going to send a bunch of guys looking for me. Our fight was done.”
“Here I see kids carrying on vendettas that started out as little minor affronts that balloon into gunfire, arson and serious violence for no real good reason,” Dolan said. “When we ask them later on, ‘What did you do this for?’ You get this blank stare because they really can’t remember what it was that started them down this track.”
In past years Minneapolis police reported that in large part one set of families was engaged in the string of shooting and murders in North Minneapolis. The department graphed and published family, friendship and neighborhood connections that spanned two or three generations involved in violence and crime. Dolan said that the violence is not random and often involves clusters of people who may be in family relationships.
“We do have certain groups, certain families that have been consistently involved in that over time,” Dolan observed. “Most of our problems are home grown. People will say, ‘Well, it’s this influx of people from Chicago or Detroit.’ That’s what it was in the late Nineties, but most of the people that we’re dealing with today are our own kids. They are kids that have grown up in our schools. They’ve dropped out. They’ve become this disconnected population. Whether it’s teens or not, they’re trying to find their way on the street, trying to make a living on the street doing whatever they can to raise money. And like Chief Harrington said, it is so much easier to get a gun today. You can get a gun easily for a hundred dollars on the street. That’s not the case in a lot of other places. It’s very easy here to acquire a gun.”