The Ellison example

In “For Rep. Keith Ellison, recent protests speak to a lifelong struggle,” the Star Tribune’s Allison Sherry provides an incoherent update on Ellison’s fraught relationship with law enforcement. There are two problems with the article. Sherry doesn’t know what she’s talking about and she simply provides a platform for Ellison to vent.

Sherry works to suggest that there is something complicated about Ellison’s views of law enforcement. She writes, for example: “As a young lawyer, Ellison often worked on cases that alleged excessive force by police officers. Yet he also has fought ardently to get police officers higher pay and better equipment. (He recently sought federal funding for transgender-awareness training for Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies.)” Cue the laugh track.

Ellison takes advantage of recent events to ride his usual leftist hobby horse:

Ellison says he isn’t sure whether relationships between low-income communities and local police departments have deteriorated in recent years, but he believes that “economic stagnation” has played a big role.

“You’re not going to sell loosies on the street if you have a good job. You’re not going to do it,” Ellison said, referring to the recent case of Garner, a New York man selling single cigarettes on the street. Garner resisted arrest, was put in a chokehold and died.

This is deep stuff. Star Tribune readers will be duly impressed.

It might have helped if only Sherry had checked local media archives including those of the Star Tribune itself. She would have found that Ellison’s past relationship with law enforcement is not quite so complicated and that it illuminates his current views as well as those of his friends on the left. Before he was elected to office as a state legislator in 2002, Ellison was an incredibly vocal supporter of cop killers near and far.

In the beginning his focus was on the Minneapolis scene. Perhaps the lowest moment in Minneapolis’s history was the September 1992 execution-style murder of police officer Jerry Haaf. Haaf’s murder was like that of the NYPD officers murdered yesterday in Brooklyn; Haaf was shot in the back as he took a coffee break at a restaurant in south Minneapolis.

The murder was a gang hit performed by four members of the city’s Vice Lords gang. The leader of the Vice Lords was Sharif Willis, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison and who sought respectability as a responsible gang leader from gullible municipal authorities while operating a gang front called United for Peace.

The four Vice Lords members who murdered Haaf met and planned the murder at Willis’s house. Two witnesses at the trial of one of the men convicted of Haaf’s murder implicated Willis in the planning. Willis was never charged; law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

Within a month of Haaf’s murder, Ellison appeared with Willis supporting the United for Peace gang front. In October 1992, Ellison helped organize a demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peace. “The main point of our rally is to support United for Peace [in its fight against] the campaign of slander the police federation has been waging,” said Ellison.

Willis was the last speaker at the demonstration. According to a contemporaneous report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Willis told the crowd that Minneapolis police were experiencing the same fear from young black men that blacks had felt from police for many years. “If the police have some fear, I understand that fear,” Willis said. “We seem to have an overabundance of bad police. . . . [W]e’re going to get rid of them,” Willis said. “They’ve got to go.” The Pioneer Press account concludes with Ellison’s contribution to the demonstration: “Ellison told the crowd that the police union is systematically frightening whites in order to get more police officers hired. That way, Ellison said, the union can increase its power base.”

Ellison publicly supported the Haaf murder defendants. In February 1993, he spoke at a demonstration for one of them during his trial. Ellison led the crowd assembled at the courthouse in a chant that was ominous in the context of Haaf’s cold-blooded murder: “We don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.” Ellison’s working relationship with Sharif Willis came to an end in February 1995, when Willis was convicted in federal court on several counts of drug and gun-related crimes and sent back to prison for 20 years.

The various themes of Ellison’s public commitments and associations all came together in a February 2000 speech he gave at a fundraising event sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the far-left National Lawyers Guild, on whose steering committee he had served. The event was a fundraiser for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah after her apprehension in St. Paul (under the name “Sara Jane Olson”) for the attempted murder of Los Angeles police officers in 1975.

Ellison saluted Soliah/Olson as a “black gang member” (i.e, the member of the SLA gang led by Donald DeFreeze or “Cinque Mtume”) and thus a victim of government persecution. He described her as one of those who had been “fighting for freedom in the ’60s and ’70s” and called for her release. (She subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in Los Angeles and to an additional murder charge in Sacramento; she served time in California before returning to Minnesota.)

Ellison also spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur (neé JoAnne Chesimard). Shakur has been on the lam in Cuba since 1984; in 2005 she was placed on the FBI’s domestic terrorists list with a $1,000,000 reward for her capture. Most recently, the FBI placed her on its Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Sherry might usefully have asked Ellison if the thawing of our relations with Cuba would open the door to the return of Shakur to serve out the rest of her time in prison and if he would support her return to prison, but, as I say, Sherry doesn’t have a clue.

The example of Keith Ellison provides a timely reminder of the sick left’s war on law enforcement, or of the left’s sick war on law enforcement.

NOTE: This post draws on my 2006 Weekly Standard article “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman.”

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