At exactly 2 pm on Wednesday, August 26, 2009, State Representative Debra Hilstrom (DFL), District 46B, gaveled to order the Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee meeting. Testifying, in order, were Jim Nobles, legislative auditor; Andy Luger, cochairman of the Oversight Committee; Michael Campion, commissioner, Dept. of Public Safety; and Bob Bushman, coordinator of the State Wide Gang and Drug Task Force.
Few know that this committee met on the previous day in closed session. It was quite obvious to us observers at the hearing that a political decision had been made to not discuss the issue of race, as reported and identified in the August 20, 2009 report entitled Report of the Metro Gang Task Force Review Panel (recall that the unit not only didn’t have any Black officers in it, but also it refused to let Black officers apply).
As I sat in this hearing and heard them use the term “saturation,” it was the first time I had heard this substitute for racial profiling and racial targeting used in Minneapolis. “Saturation patrol” refers to concentrating large numbers of police officers in one geographic area to detect and apprehend impaired drivers engaged in moving violations.
If not for the courageous and tenacious perseverance of Senator Mee Moua (DFL) District 67, the issue of race and the racial profiling (looking for people of color) would not have been discussed. And at least 4,000 of the 5,000 arrests or seizures by the task force were of people of color.
One of the problems with the Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee is that the only two African Americans in the Minnesota legislature are not committee members, and so it was left to the Hmong senator from St. Paul to courageously make the inquiries on behalf of the various communities of color, particularly those in the metro area.
This was the first time in our long civil rights experience that we have heard White politicians substitute “saturation” for racial profiling and racial targeting in Minneapolis. You have to remember that, according to the report of both the review panel and the legislative auditor, this Metro Gang Strike Force was a union of gangsters who had drugs, seized weapons, and had $300,000 in cash just laying around in their headquarters in New Brighton.
Commander Ron Ryan was quoted in the auditor’s report in May 2009 as saying that the seizure of property and the possible sale of over 100 automobiles was done to keep the gang task force inner structure afloat. The committee was told, on August 26, that the Metro Gang Strike Force had over $1 million in three separate bank accounts.
If not for the tenaciousness of Sheriff Richard Stanick of Hennepin County, the cover-up would not have been brought to light. The legislature is now trying to buy time by saying they may hold public hearings in February. Word has it that the FBI will need that much time to conduct a whitewash and remove all evidence of one of the most egregious of Minnesota law enforcement misconduct and corruption in 80 years.
Yet it was the decision to obstruct and eliminate the issue of racial profiling that is frightening and chilling to the constitutional rights and protections of persons of color in the state of Minnesota. Only Senator Moen and Sheriff Richard Stanik have talked about the severe and dangerous damage that could be done to future relationships between the minority communities and law enforcement in this state.
We may never know the full amount of money that has been absconded with or the amount of drugs that were confiscated and then resold on the streets of the metro area. The events following the State auditor’s report, and the destruction of thousands of legal documents that were shredded, are referred to on page 28 of the report of August 20, 2009.
As Thurgood Marshall noted, though our government started “defective” (left slavery unresolved), with Marshall we “celebrate our system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights we hold as fundamental today,” and eagerly await Minnesota finally also working, as Marshall put it, “protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”
Once again in this state, forces that should represent justice and right of access and due process, have been engaged in a massive cover up that will continue to erode the trust, the respect and the support of the communities of color of the police as, once again, we are disenfranchised under the color of law.
Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of key civil rights organizations, including the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com; hear his readings and read his solution papers and “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.
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