Northside group asking for apology from MPD

Neighborhood volunteers
Jordan neighborhood resident and business owner Jaheed Abdul-Malik talks with other neighborhood volunteers Monday, Apr. 28, 2014 about a recent incident where he and two others were accosted by police officers near Irving and 26th avenues N. while door-knocking about a bicycle greenway. There were reports of shots fired in the neighborhood, and the group feels as though they were racially profiled.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

When Derail Harris and other canvassers for the Jordan Area Community Council took to the streets of the Jordan neighborhood in north Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, they felt secure in the knowledge that they were helping their community.

They carried surveys for the council, which earlier received a grant to ask residents how they felt about a proposed greenway for the area. The survey takers are paid to go door knocking until June.

But their security was shaken when, all of a sudden, Harris was surrounded by half a dozen Minneapolis police officers.

"They didn't ask my name," Harris said. "They just said, 'You hear some shots?' I'm like, 'no, I didn't hear no shots.'"

Harris said the officers patted him down without asking his permission. They didn't detain or arrest him. But Harris said the April 16 encounter was embarrassing.

"And I don't feel like ... it was right for us getting jacked by police, because we black, know what I'm saying? And then, we were doing our jobs. That was basically it."

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Harris and about a dozen other residents met with Minneapolis police officials last week to talk about the encounter at a regularly-scheduled meeting of the Jordan Area Community Council. Some say the underlying cause of such incidents is racial profiling - that police are targeting them because of the color of their skin.

Shannon Jones, who works for Urban Homeworks, a northside, non-profit, faith-based group, recounted stories of volunteers who are people of color getting unfairly targeted by police officers. She said some of the group's volunteers are people who've been in trouble before and are trying to turn their lives around.

"And what I find extremely disturbing, is that the same type of attention they were getting from the police when they weren't doing right - they're getting when they try to do right," Jones said. "And what is the incentive to continue to do right, if you're going to continue to be treated like a criminal?"

Jaheed Abdul Malik, another member of the outreach team that was conducting the survey, said he arrived at the scene just after police. Malik said he saw the officers pat Harris down and then go back to their squad cars.

But Malik said the officers lingered for a little bit.

"That kind of made me nervous, because I have a past," Malik. "I'm trying to change my life. I've been changing for the last 10 years. Anytime I deal with any law enforcement, I always have flashbacks. It's normal."

Malik, who owns a graphic design company and has lived in the Jordan neighborhood for several years, said he doesn't know the cops in his area by name and they don't know the people in the neighborhood.

Fourth Precinct Inspector Michael Kjos
Fourth Precinct Inspector Michael Kjos spoke to attendees at the Jordan Area Community Council meeting on April 23, 2014. Kjos told the group the department is working hard to build stronger community relationships.
Brandt Williams / MPR News

Fourth Precinct inspector Mike Kjos told the group the officers were investigating a report of shots fired in the neighborhood, after a homeowner found what appeared to be bullet holes in a couple windows.

"There were two squads that arrived at the scene," he said. "One is going to talk to the victim, and the other says they see footprints in the snow, they're going to follow the foot tracks away from the house."

Kjos said the officers followed the tracks on foot for a few blocks before losing them as they blended with other footprints on the sidewalk along 26th Avenue where the outreach workers were walking.

Several people at the meeting asked Kjos and Lt. Michael Friestleben how officers could have suspected that a group of people walking with clipboards and badges on their jackets may have been involved in a shooting.

Friestleben, who has patrolled the streets of north Minneapolis for 26 years, said he'd seen stranger things.

"We can show you police reports with the guy at the UPS, stole the UPS suit and is now taking the packages," he said. "So are we now not supposed to stop the UPS guys? Are they a threat? They are a threat. So, the badge is great. But it doesn't necessarily exclude that you may not be doing the wrong things with this badge."

Friestleben said the encounter could have been avoided with a little more communication between the outreach workers and the police department. He told the group neighborhood organizations frequently notify police when they hold walking patrols or canvassing events. "So there is a fix here, if we work together," he said. "So it would great to get trained with your group. Take your group in to roll calls and meet the cops so they know the cops names and the faces, and when that cop drives by, he waves at you for once."

Kjos also told the group the department is working hard to build stronger community relationships. He said Chief Janee Harteau requires officers to take cultural awareness training, conduct walking patrols and attend community meetings so they can meet the people in the areas they patrol.

"Obviously there's two very different perspectives as to what took place," said Kjos after the recent meeting. "This is a really good opportunity for both sides to put everything out there, discuss it and then say, 'OK we'll let this sink in for a couple of days, we'll get back in the room again and we'll rehash this out and see where we can go from here and build some relationships.'"

But some group members told Kjos and Friestleben that's not enough.

Outreach team coordinator Latasha Powell choked back tears as she talked about how the latest incident has upset her - and how she has been profiled by police officers for much of her life.

Powell, co-founder of Appetite for Change, a non-profit group that promotes health and wellness, said a few months ago she was pulled over in St. Paul by an officer who kept his hand on his holstered gun.

Mindful that black people across the nation have died during encounters with police in recent years, she said she feared for her life.

"It has happened -- know what I'm saying? -- of them killing people who look like me, innocently -- especially in this last year," Powell said. "It has been at least 10 cases of this happening. I'm really upset."

Cathy Spann, director of the Jordan neighborhood association, told Powell and the rest of the team that she felt some responsibility for the incident.

"On behalf of Jordan, I do want to apologize that this incident occurred on my watch at a time that I sent you out," she said. "And I'm sorry."

Kjos, the police inspector, didn't apologize on behalf of the officers. He said he'd like the officers involved to sit down with members of the Jordan team and make an apology if it is warranted.