Breaking the heart of a community

Attack on Black fire fighters and police officers

Ron EdwardsIn the November 27, 2015 edition of the Kansas City Call, the major African American newspaper in the State of Missouri, there is a picture on the front page with this headline “Protest continues in Minneapolis. Feds head to city to begin investigation.”

That picture on the front page broke my heart: a young African American Minneapolis police officer berated and threatened by protestors. Being that the photograph was taken by Reuters, means it was sent to papers and news outlets worldwide, an African American policeman being savagely disrespected by the occupiers of the Fourth Precinct. It caused me to reflect deeply about the disrespect and threats I saw directed against African American police officers and fire fighters at the occupation.

We saw African American police officers and African American fire fighters berated, spit upon, and threatened. Rocks and bottles were thrown at them. There were attempts to physically attack them. I wondered, during the 18 days of occupation, why we as a community did not speak up in defense of these courageous public servants.

The police officer on the front page of the Kansas City Call was born and raised in North Minneapolis. Indeed, the highest ranking African American police officer was the well-known Medaria Arradondo, deputy chief, chief of staff. The highest ranking African American fire fighter, Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner, is a 21-year veteran and past president of Black Fire Fighters Association (from 2001-2013). Both were born and raised in North Minneapolis. With venom and hate, they were called every name one could imagine that could be spewed at them.

These were not White Ku Klux Klan or White Supremacists threatening Black police and fire fighters; these were African Americans, some from Minneapolis, some from out of town, who turned back the clock and paid no attention and had no respect for the long and courageous battle fought in this city to integrate our fire and police departments. There was a 50-year period without one Black fire fighter, and a 100-year period when the number of Black policemen never exceeded three.

I thought of great Minneapolis police inspectors like Raymond Pressly, and great African American fire fighters, such as John Griffin. These men are important symbols of the battle waged for over half a century to integrate the protective services, fire and police.

I still cannot understand the disrespect shown these African American men and women who lay their lives on the line each and every day. They make up the thin blue line of African Americans who, if not for them, circumstances and conditions would have been much more volatile and with greater violations of the Constitutional Rights of African Americans during the siege of the Fourth Precinct.

And so that picture by Reuters, on the front page of African American newspapers across America, broke my heart. I have long known what the battle has been like to bring representation of African Americans to the protective services. These young African American men and women — and those who came before them — have earned respect and thus deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

And yet, as this column is submitted, no one has reached out to those who are Black members of the protective services, fire and police, to express regret and to apologize for the disrespect and disdain that was heaped upon those who have sworn to protect and serve.

I know of no situation in the history of these men and women in which they ever turned their backs on the community of which they are a part. Shame on us for our disrespect for these brave men and women.

Stay tuned.


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