The city of Minneapolis is a case study in the consequences of one-party liberal rule. What happens when liberals rule a city from top to bottom for 30 years? What happens when the city’s newspaper shares the politics of the city’s municipal leaders? Can the newspaper provide the kind of oversight that journalists proclaim to be their duty? Can the city fulfill its duty to secure the safety of its citizens? Can the civic culture accommodate discussion of the facts related to public safety issues? Despite the parochial nature of our coverage of the city, I hope that it has sociological interest for our readers.
Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman made a name for himself at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and still lives in St. Paul. He occasionally gets out of the office and reports on events in the Twin Cities with the skills of a good reporter. Last week Coleman visited north Minneapolis, the city’s oldest minority neighborhood. His resulting column provided first-hand evidence of the broken-windows epidemic that has followed the cessation of the law enforcement necessary to maintain public order: “Memo to McManus: The streets are where it’s at.” Coleman’s column paints a portrait of a neighborhood abandoned by city fathers:
“I’m going to say it like it is: The police don’t do their job,” a 22-year-old named Montrell Gardner said in the parking lot of a Plymouth Avenue shopping center that used to be famous for two things: Lucille’s Kitchen and drug dealers.
Only the dealers are left. Lucille’s is closed.
“We have 25 hustlers standing on this corner every day, but the police just roll through without doing anything,” Gardner was saying. “The hustlers got no respect for the police. The police ain’t scaring nobody. And that’s a bad thing.”
Yes, it is. Especially considering the fact that we were talking within spitting distance of the Fourth Precinct police station, a blank-walled cop fort that squats on Plymouth but feels as far away as the moon.
“All they do is drive through and try to look good every once in a while,” said an aspiring rapper named Antwon Wright who these days prefers to go by the name of Young Plukey (the original Plukey was a notorious drug dealer). “If this was a white neighborhood, the cops would go crazy. I mean, how can we be next to the station and yet you can come up here and get everything you need? It’s a damn shame.”
“I agree with you,” said a security guard named Rico McKinnies, nodding his head at the police fort. “It is a damn shame.” McKinnies, an off-duty cop, also serves as director of operations for the security firm that watches the shopping center. “Cops sitting in a car don’t do anything for the community,” he said.
Like a lot of guys on the street corner, Young Plukey has a checkered past. He spent nine years in prison for shooting a guy during a drug deal. He shot the guy six times, up at 36th and Emerson. The victim nearly died but was revived in the operating room and survived as a paraplegic. “Because I was 16, they had mercy on me,” Young Plukey says.
These days, he calls himself a “coke rebuker” and delivers a rap message of recovery and restoration in churches. His best rap is called “Son of Perdition,” and it preaches a message of turning to the Bible and the Qur’an, or what have you. “I’m trying to convert savage living into spiritual living,” he says.
We all know that parts of a big city are no place for the faint of heart. But I marvel at how drug dealers can thumb their noses at the cops while law-abiding people fear for their safety and police chiefs get ticked off when community-relations meetings turn unpleasant. This is big stuff, the stuff that makes or breaks a place.
Coleman can’t bring himself to look into the causes of the shocking abandonment he discovered. I have tried to suggest the nature of the causes in my comments here and elsewhere, most recently in “Time to bring back the dog” and “Return to ‘Return to Murderapolis.'”
One might think that a column like Coleman’s would prompt an immediate demand for the restoration of routine law enforcement in north Minneapolis. Today’s Star Tribune, however, suggests that the city’s biggest law enforcement problem is too many white officers: “Minneapolis wants more minority cops.” Here is Chao Xiong’s utterly clueless article:
Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minneapolis police on Monday announced plans to bump up diversity in law enforcement as the department angles to place an unprecedented 71 new officers on the streets by next summer.
Critics questioned whether the move is a last-minute political ploy by Rybak in an election year while Minneapolis police asked for patience in what they admitted is a challenging task for a department that some say has failed at diversity.
“Hiring, particularly diversity hiring, is much more difficult than it appears,” said Deputy Chief Don Harris. “There’s no way we’re going to do in nine months what this department has struggled to do for years. Twenty years we failed at diversity hiring.”
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Rybak, flanked by Harris and Lt. Lee Edwards, head of the homicide unit, said that the city plans to hire officers from its Community Service Officer (CSO) Program and other departments known for diversity, including Detroit. Police Chief Bill McManus presented the diversity hiring plan to Rybak last week; McManus was out of town Monday.
“It is frustrating that we are not further along,” said Rybak. He first announced a general plan for new hires during his 2006 budget proposal last month, using funds made available through state aid and the city’s decision to pay down $15 million in pension debt.
According to Harris, of the first 19 officers hired and expected to hit the streets by next January, 17 are white men — a fact that has drawn the ire of some community members and has led others to question how feasible the city’s plan is. Fifty-two additional officers are expected to be on the streets by next May.
“I think it’s inconsistent … when those are the first ones through the door and they aren’t people of color,” said Duane Reed, who was at the news conference and is president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP.
Police countered Monday by saying that quality comes first and that the database of possible candidates is small and not as diverse as they would like. For years, the department has had to downsize and is working to establish a strong list of candidates, Harris said.
The city has a two-pronged approach. The first: Hire high school graduates currently working in non-law-enforcement positions with Minneapolis police’s CSO Program, which has 12 minority members and five women out of 18 participants. They are completing two years of training at colleges with accredited law enforcement programs. The second approach is to hire officers with at least one year of experience at another law enforcement agency. The latter are called “lateral hires” and will participate in the Minneapolis police’s 16-week training academy before beginning to work in Minneapolis.
To meet those ends, Edwards led a recruitment team of department personnel and civilians to Detroit on Aug. 17. Minneapolis police said Detroit and other Michigan cities with diverse staffs, including Flint, plan to downsize in the near future, possibly in Minneapolis’ favor.
Edwards said Minneapolis is ready to offer a starting salary of $45,000 to $48,000 for lateral hires, compared with Detroit’s starting pay of $28,500.
Minneapolis police recruiters also have been at other events this year, hoping to beef up diversity.
It’s too little too late, said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Rybak’s toughest opponent in the Sept. 13 mayoral primary. Just minutes after Rybak’s announcement, McLaughlin held court outside police headquarters and called the city’s plan a “baling wire and Scotch tape” remedy to problems that should have been addressed years ago.
“He’s slapping something together … at the last minute to save his political reputation just in time for the election,” McLaughlin said of Rybak.
The mayor said he has always been committed to diversity.
Rybak’s commitment to “diversity” is of the variety in which innocent white third parties are the direct victim of racial discrimination; it is a commitment to “diversity” that makes innocent black citizens the indirect victim of racial politics. Minneapolis badly needs a mayor sufficiently committed to “diversity” that he will take the political heat that is generated when law enforcement provides protection even to the city’s poorest minority citizens. It is a commitment that is conspicuosly lacking.