St. Cloud State University (SCSU) students, faculty and staff, and St. Cloud citizens, most of them persons of color, expressed embarrassment, frustration and anger during the October 9 Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) hearing on racial profiling.
An overflow crowd attended the three-hour hearing at the 300-seat Atwood Theater on the St. Cloud State University campus. Over 20 individuals shared personal experiences with racial profiling by St. Cloud police officers.
“I was happy to see that we had a packed house,” said CBM Chairman Kevin Lindsay. “We could’ve taken at least another hour of testimonies,” he pointed out.
“We [Blacks] are under surveillance [in St. Cloud] as if we are the enemy,” said SCSU professor Luke Tripp.
Amer Lam, a 22-year-old SCSU Black female student, said she was stopped one night this summer and asked to take a breath test while picking up a friend who had drunk too much. The officer “[seemed] very disappointed that I wasn’t drunk,” Lam said, adding that her White friend was not asked to take the test.
Twenty-year-old Bisharo Iman’s brother is currently facing weapon possession charges. He was harassed by a group of White males, and police were called. The group told officers that Iman’s brother threatened them with a gun; upon searching his car, police found a baseball bat but no weapon. “He has to go to court for something he didn’t do,” Iman said.
Shila Robinson testified that her nephew was attacked by eight Whites after a high school football game. The officers who came to his house told him that he would be arrested and charged if they filed an incident report, she said.
A Latino man pointed out that Latinos and Asians also are “profiled racially” by St. Cloud police.
Danielle Bennett, 24, provided perhaps the night’s most compelling account. The young mother was at a local McDonald’s three Saturdays ago when she discovered her automobile had been damaged while she dined there with her daughter. “The license plate [of the other vehicle] was imbedded in the front of my car,” she recalled.
The other driver, a White woman, denied that her car had anything to do with it, and refused to exchange insurance information with Bennett. The woman’s husband later came and told Bennett to “get a life.” She then asked the restaurant manager to call police.
“When the police officer finally showed up, the husband ran over to him and made a couple of comments,” Bennett said. “He and the officer nodded their heads and said, ‘One of those.’ The officer told me that he didn’t want to hear any arguments from me unless I wanted to get in trouble for disorderly conduct.”
After several minutes, during which time the husband protested that his wife had nothing to do with Bennett’s car, the officer turned to Bennett and said, “There is nothing we can do about it because it happened on private property.”
Bennett continued, “So [the officer] goes and asks me for an ID. I ask him why, since you say nothing can be done about it, and he said, ‘So you want to get in trouble for withholding information from a peace officer?’”
Bennett told the officer that she never had been in trouble with the law before and only wanted to know the proper procedure on handling a parking lot accident. “I need your ID to see if you have any warrants,” the officer told Bennett.
“Are you going to ask anyone else for their ID?” she responded. The officer eventually asked for only the husband’s ID, and not his wife’s. “The husband [and the wife] did not ride together,” Bennett pointed out.
“I was tired by this point, because I felt I was treated wrongly,” concluded Bennett. “I am no longer comfortable asking the police for anything.”
DeLaSalle High School President Brother Michael Collins, a CBM board member, said, “We can’t say if it was racial profiling or not, but we can say it was bullying, and that is inappropriate.”
Deqa Ali, an American-born Somali woman, said that she was “verbally assaulted” by a police officer when she was stopped back in July. She used her cell phone and called a friend “to keep a record of what was happening.”
Many complained about the placement of a mug shot of a Black man wanted for armed robbery on the main page of the City of St. Cloud’s official website and on outdoor billboards for several days last month. “These kinds of things fuel the racial profiling in this community by police,” said Debra Leigh, who testified about an incident involving her nephew and his pastor at a local restaurant.
An off-duty police officer “eavesdropped” on their conversation, Leigh reported. “He [the officer] left the restaurant and came back a few minutes later with a uniformed police officer with his hand on his gun inside the restaurant. He asked for ID from my nephew, and they ran his information right there and didn’t find anything. Then they left — no apology, no anything.”
“White folk don’t have to worry about [being racially profiled],” said SCSU professor Mark Jaede in a show of support for his colleagues and students of color.
Many City officials and others “share a low level of racial understanding,” added SCSU professor Semya Hakim. Among those in attendance were St. Cloud Police Chief Dennis Ballantine and City Council Member Bob Johnson.
“It is going to take a long time and a lot of people working together to fix it,” noted Council Member Johnson.
Too much attention is focused on racial profiling, suggested SCSU professor Anthony Akubue. “It is a few people who are making a lot of noise [about racial profiling].”
“Along with racism, we have a problem with destructive tokenism,” responded SCSU professor Tamrat Tademe, disagreeing with Akubue.
Over 130 comments were posted on the St. Cloud Times’ website the day after the hearing, including such comments as, “I wish I was a minority so I could cry and complain every time I get pulled over or stopped by the police. I do think there are those who over-dramatize some of the discrimination they have been subjected to.”
“It isn’t [just] about racial profiling,” SCSU professor Michael Davis said. “It’s [also about] shopping while Black [and] being on campus while Black.”
Tademe said he was disappointed that Ballentine did not speak during the hearing. “They [Ballantine and other City officials] were sitting in the back, and they didn’t look engaged,” he said.
Ballantine said afterwards that he is against unwarranted police stops and referred to the Community Policing Agreement signed two years ago.
“People still are telling the same stories since we signed that agreement two years ago,” said Mohamoud Mohamed of the St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization, one of several organizations that signed the agreement.
“The agreement we have with the communities of color is that we promised that we will fully investigate [racial profiling charges] and turn it over to the review board to see if we haven’t done anything wrong,” added Ballentine.
Tripp filed a racial profiling complaint after being stopped in July by officers who mistakenly thought he was carrying a purse while walking home from campus. The St. Cloud Citizens’ Police Review Board on September 20 cleared the two officers involved.
However, Tripp’s attorney, Thomas Jovanovich, sent a letter to Ballantine October 4 asking for all purse snatching incident reports that occurred in a seven-day period up to and including July 9, the day Tripp was stopped.
“I do think it is important to have people of color in positions of power, and having police officers of color on the review board,” Hakim pointed out. “But if it is only two out of seven, or one out of 10, then they get voted down every single time.”
It should not be up to persons of color to solve racial profiling, said Tademe. “I don’t feel that people of color [should] be used as a laundry machine for cleaning up racism [in the police department].”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or read his blog, www.wwwchallman.blogspot.com.