MPD chief a no-show at community forum on police violence

Harteau’s absence attributed to ‘public safety’ threats

 

By Khymyle Mims

Contributing Writer

This past Thursday night, citizens from across the city gathered at the Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis to take part in a “listening session” with the chief of police and other individuals who teach and work in the criminal justice field. Over 100 people from the community gathered to ask questions and express their concerns about police corruption and brutality in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country.

The plan was to direct these concerns to a panel consisting of Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, U of M Professor Dr. Rose Brewer, and author and Metropolitan State University Criminal Justice Professor Jason Sole, as well as lawyer and chair of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission Jennifer Singleton. Instead, the crowd addressed only Sole, Brewer and Singleton due to Harteau deciding not to attend. It was later relayed to the audience that Harteau’s decision came from her feeling it was not safe for her to participate.

Nekima Levy-Pounds (l) and   Minneapolis Police Chief  Janeé Harteau Photos by Charles Hallman
Nekima Levy-Pounds (l) and Minneapolis Police Chief
Janeé Harteau
Photos by Charles Hallman

The panel and community discussion was moderated by University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, who expressed her feelings towards the police chief’s absence by placing an empty chair at the table in her place. “I don’t know about you, but I’m just a little bit disgusted by the circumstances that have happened here today,” said Levy-Pounds.

“I am really bothered by Chief Harteau’s decision to not participate in a community forum focused on police accountability, which you know is one of the most serious issues impacting our community,” said Levy-Pounds. “And to claim fear of uprising or whatever, I mean, look around this room. Do any of us feel threatened or unsafe? No, so that’s just really, from my perspective, disrespectful.”

During the event, Eighth Ward Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, Ninth Ward Council Member Alondra Cano, and Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon joined the panel.

Prior to the panel discussion opening, the audience was entertained by We Win Institute. Its leader announced that the police commissioner would not be present because she was “scared.”

“The MPD received credible information from a longstanding community leader, in addition to a number of other sources, about planned physical disruptions at a ‘community listening session’ that I was scheduled to attend,” Harteau said, according to a later Star Tribune article. “Based on these known threats, which were outright and open in social media forums, I have decided it is in the best interest of community public safety to cancel my appearance. I am disappointed because I looked forward to hearing from the residents of Minneapolis.”

“The Minneapolis police chief has an advisory committee,” said a former police officer in attendance. “The NAACP president called and asked to have a seat on that committee and was told no. For the chief to say she’s scared to come here when she’s got 700 or more security people working for her makes absolutely no sense.”

Children entertained those present at the meeting with boisterous and artistic performances including poetry, rap, stepping, and dance. Two young boys, around the age of 10 expressed their thoughts about drug dealers and gangs that they see outside of their homes on a regular basis.

Following the performance and panel introductions, Minneapolis residents, community members and activists gathered at the mics to express their displeasure of how members of the Minneapolis Police Department conduct themselves. Young adults told stories of being sexually harassed and racially profiled by MPD. Members of various community groups for the homeless, youth, and women’s rights showed up to speak on police misconduct and harassment that takes place and unnecessary arrests they believe violate human rights.

Mothers and fathers approached the mics expressing their displeasure with the MPD and how they are targeting communities and youth for doing nothing more than hanging out in their community. “I have a son that walks his dog late at night, and I fear for him walking his dog [because the police] have bothered him and beat him up before,” said a North Minneapolis mother.

While the outrage and frustration over the decision by the MPD and its chief to not be present was palpable in the Sabathani auditorium, as was the call for action.

More than 15 community groups were vocally present — from Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) speaking on the microphones to the NAACP President Rev. Jerry McAfee. “There have been plenty of times that we’ll be downtown,” said an NOC member. “It’ll be a weekend. I’ll be out with my girlfriends. [While] we [are] leaving, we’ll be sexually harassed [by police officers]. We’re being talked about for whatever outfits we wear, whatever [our] hair looks like, whatever my body type looks like. And I’m thinking, ‘I should trust you?’”

Members of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) showed up naming various deceptive police practices. Alongside the CUAPB, many other individuals and groups mentioned the initiative that will appear on ballets shortly mandating police officers to carry professional liability insurance.

One of the community members explained to the audience that the reasoning behind this initiative is to get rid of the “bad cops.” The good cops that carry this liability insurance will receive lower premiums, while the bad cops will be forced to put in for numerous claims and ultimately be dropped from their insurance, making them ineligible for employment.

Charles Heslup, a local hip hop artist known as Longshot and a youth specialist at We Win, was not shy in calling out more than just the police chief for not showing up. He also called out the city council members who organized the listening session, questioning if the event had been advertised and promoted in the Minneapolis high schools and colleges. According to Heslup, the youths’ voice should have been a significant component in Thursday evening’s conversation.

Jan Nye, a member of CUAPB, said she has spoken with many Minneapolis residents and has heard their personal stories of police brutality: “These spectacular cases that happen every once in a while, that attract all the attention, for every one of those there’s hundreds of people out there being brutalized every single day with injuries that will last a lifetime.”

Some attendees expressed pleasure and gratitude in having three city council members present, while others expressed their displeasure with the city council as a whole, including one man who instructed the crowd to “ignore” them.

“We’re in an era and time where they’re incarcerating us [Black men] younger…we’re not armed, we’re not together, and we’re not organized enough… We need to get more sophisticated,” said Sole.

Khymyle Mims welcomes reader responses to khymylewrites@gmail.com.