Keith Ellison is the DFL (Democratic)-endorsed candidate to succeed 14-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Ellison is a current state representative; he was endorsed at the Fifth District DFL convention on May 6. The Fifth District includes the city of Minneapolis and is thought to be one of the safest Democratic seats in the country. If so, the DFL endorsement is tantamount to election.
However, Ellison’s endorsement by the Fifth District convention on May 6 will be contested in a September primary by candidates including former state DFL chairman Mike Erlandson, former DFL state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge and others. I should think that Ellison must be considered the favorite to emerge as the winner of the primary and proceed to the election in November, where he would face Republican Alan Fine and a Green Party candidate.
Ellison’s candidacy has attracted national attention given Ellison’s identification of himself as a Muslim. Of greater interest to many, however, is Ellison’s past participation in the Nation of Islam. Ellison has only acknowledged “ties” to the Nation of Islam for eighteen months in the mid-1990s. In earlier installments of this series, we have established the falsity of Ellison’s limited account of his relationship to the Nation of Islam. We have also documented his equally troubling support of the criminal and cop-killing left in his enthusiasm for Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olson, Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Ellison’s public association with and support for the cop-killing left extends beyond these figures.
Perhaps the lowest moment of Minneapolis’s history was the September 1992 execution-style murder of Minneapolis Police Officer Jerry Haaf. Haaf was shot in the back as he took a coffee break at the Pizza Shack in South Minneapolis. The murder was a gang hit performed by four members of Minneapolis’s Vice Lords.
The leader of the Vice Lords was Sharif Willis, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison and who sought respectabily as a responsible gang leader from gullible municipal authorities while operating a “bogus program” called United for Peace.
The four Vice Lords members who murdered Officer Haaf met and decided to murder Officer Haaf at Willis’s house. Two witnesses at the trial of one of the defendants convicted of Haaf’s murder implicated Willis in the planning of the murder. Willis was never charged in connection with Haaf’s murder; law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.
Within a month of Haaf’s death, Ellison was leading events including appearances with Willis and support for Willis’s United for Peace gang front. In October 1992, Ellison helped to organize a North Minneapolis demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peae. “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 St. Paul Pioneer Press report, Willis told the crowd that Minneapolis police are experiencing the same fear from young black men that blacks have 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…we’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.”
In February 1993 Ellison spoke at a demonstration in support of one of the Haaf murder defendants during the defendant’s trial. Ellison led the crowd assembled at the courthouse in a chant: “We don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.”
In the spring of 1993, Ellison and Willis attended the National Urban Peace & Justice Summit of gang leaders in Kansas City. Ellison advocated police cooperation with gangs to combat crime. “Unless we take the risk, we won’t ever have a chance of realizing the goals…[Minneapolis Police gang crimes unit officer] Mike Schoeben [who opposed the gang summit] won’t risk 10 cents because he doesn’t care about the community.”
After his return from the gang summit, Willis was charged with violating the terms of his probation as the result of failing a drug test. In reports relating to the probation revocation proceeding Ellison is identified as Willis’s attorney.
In October 1994 Willis pulled a TEC-9 nine-millimeter pistol and held hostages at a Minneapolis service station because he mistakenly believed someone had taken two wheel “spinners” (decorative 24-carat gold items) that he was having installed on his Merecedes. Willis was convicted of several counts of drug and gun-related crimes in federal court in February 1995. Willis was sentenced to an aggregate prison term in excess of twenty years. His conviction was upheld on appeal by the Eighth Circuit. Ellison originally appeared as Willis’s attorney, but gave way to Joe Friedberg. Elllison remained Willis’s chief public defender in the court of public opinion.