Mpls residents and police more polarized than ever
When Minneapolis Police Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, took the stage on October 10 at President Donald Trump’s rally in Minneapolis—he and by extension the large majority of Police Federation members that allegedly support him—may have intentionally or unintentionally sent an ominous message. They conveyed that they are not fond of Communities of Color in Minneapolis, communities that they are duty-bound and sworn to serve and protect.
“The mayor said the president wasn’t welcome, but the Police Federation of Minneapolis begs to differ,” Kroll told the rally crowd and, through media coverage, Communities of Color across the nation. The Police Federation head claimed in his speech that police were “oppressed” under the Obama administration. He said that Trump, on the other hand, “let cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of [on] us.”
The support that Kroll said the Federation extended to President Trump begs the question: Can police who openly support Donald Trump be trusted to act in the best interests of immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Latinos and other People of Color?
“How can you call on those guys to help you when they don’t even like you?” asked local barber Brian Heron, Jr.
“The optics were problematic,” said retired Judge Pamela Alexander. “When we as a community have to call on police, this [Kroll’s position] may give people pause. Who is coming to my door? Do they care about me as a victim or as a citizen? It sends a very poor message to the community.”
Alexander served on a committee under former Governor Mark Dayton that worked on police and community relations. “How are they [Minneapolis police] going to respond to the needs of the community if they are people who agree with and follow this president’s rhetoric?” she asked.
“The polarization between law enforcement and Communities of Color is at an all-time high. The same is true of this president and Communities of Color. He [Kroll] was a very visible polarizing force. You don’t see other groups of public employees standing on stage with T-shirts [reading Cops for Trump].”
While it’s not clear that a majority of Minneapolis police officers share Kroll’s support for Trump, he has been elected repeatedly to head their Federation and he insists that his brand of right-wing politics—which is admittedly narrow, provincial and prejudiced—is backed by his fellow officers. In a recent Star Tribune article he said, “So, if the membership would come and say, ‘Listen, back out of the politics, we don’t want any of it,’ I would do that, but all I’m getting is overwhelming support.”
While asserting that he is not racist, Kroll very publicly supports a U.S. president who many view as racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. Kroll has made public assertions about Black people and Black organizations that can be found on openly racist websites like Storm Front.
Kroll has called Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization and MN Attorney General Keith Ellison a terrorist. Last summer he appeared on FOX News and attributed attacks by roving teenagers downtown to an “ultra-left wing agenda.” He claimed the teenagers committed the crimes because they knew they would not be punished.
The disrespect shown by the Fourth Precinct nearly a year ago with its “ghetto” Christmas tree seemed to reflect the precinct’s and, to a lesser extent, the department’s hostile attitude toward the people they are paid to serve. Add to this the killings of Jamar Clark and Terrence Franklin over the last five years and the conclusion seems unavoidable that the Minneapolis Police Department is, at the very least, facing a grave public relations problem.
“I listened to Kroll speak at the Trump rally. He has a hateful spirit, or it seems that way. I would not trust him around me or my students, especially my Somali students. I don’t think they should be on the force if they are that hateful,” said retired teacher Janet Nelson.
Alexander pointed out that Kroll’s behavior “undermines the efforts of Chief Medaria Arradondo,” who has what she called “forward-thinking ideas.” Arradondo has been on record promoting improved police relations with the community, especially the Black community.
Michelle Gross of Communities United against Police Brutality saw Kroll’s role at the convention as even more insidious. She accused Kroll of “attempting to validate Trump by having his fellow cops support him.”
According to Gross, Kroll is playing politics. “He knows you don’t have the right to wear your uniform at political events. He knows about the Hatch Act passed long ago to keep cops from doing that. It’s nothing new, and he knows that.”
“Any supporter of Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric does not believe in criminal justice reform and can’t be trusted to believe in the justice system at all,” said Sylvia Schwartz, who works with the Minnesota BDS Movement that seeks to bring a just situation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to her, Trump’s rhetoric has included not-so-subtle support for police violence, racial profiling and xenophobia.
“For the head of the Police Federation to be a supporter of racial profiling, of police brutality, of acts of hatred towards people of color speaks volumes.”
To date, there has been no public censure of Kroll by Minneapolis Police administration. This silence can only add to the crisis of confidence and trust in Communities of Color and Black communities in particular.
“I would not feel that my neighbors, my children and I would be treated fairly by anyone who would support Kroll as their leader,” explained Mindy Barry. Barry is a member of Justice for Justine, a group of Southwest Minneapolis neighbors and activists who organized around the case of Justine Damond Ruszczyk. She was shot and killed by Minneapolis police July 15, 2017.
“To be truthful, I didn’t feel comfortable with police even before Kroll’s appearance at that rally,” said student-activist and unionist Micah McKinney. “White Supremacy has a long, rich history as a partner of law enforcement.”