Thursday, October 4, 2007

Walking while Black

Next week will be my fifth trip to St. Cloud, Minnesota in six months. The Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) will hold hearings October 9 on a variety of issues, racial profiling notwithstanding.

Racial profiling of Blacks and other persons of color is nothing new in St. Cloud. The problem is that too many city police officers won't stop. Despite cries from the Black community; despite a state legislative report that showed St. Cloud as having the highest number of racial stops in Minnesota; and despite a police chief that told me last year that he is weeding out the longtime practice, it still occurs.

It's demoralizing when you pulled over by some cop, fully knowing that you did not nothing wrong. Especially when you are with friends and family -- you have to go through the humiliating drill of a police officer giving you the fifth degree, delaying you from reaching your destination.

Simply because you are Black.

Driving while Black isn't new -- it occurs nationwide. It has been around as long as Blacks began driving cars in this country. Black comedians often joke about it: D.L. Hughley last week on his HBO special talks about how Whites can get away with talking to police any way they want but not Blacks. If persons of color did, they will resemble Swiss cheese or worse as a result, Hughley surmised.

"They (police officers) stop you and laugh," notes St. Cloud State professor Michael Davis, "but I don't find anything funny about it all."

But 'walking while Black,' which occurred to St. Cloud State University professor and department head Dr. Luke Tripp is a relatively new occurrence.

We first learned about the incident shortly after it occurred in early July by retired SCSU instructor Mytle Cooper, a frequent critic of both the school and the city in regard to its treatment of Blacks. We also received the copy of Tripp's letter to St. Cloud Police Chief Dennis Ballantine, detailing the ordeal and formally complaining about the two officers who stopped him, supposedly on the pretense that he stole a purse.

The 18-year city resident who walks to work daily was stopped by St. Cloud police officer Sue Proshek, who told Tripp that she mistakenly took his book bag as a purse. If the professor had the nerve to commit such a crime in broad daylight, and continue walking with it in his hand, he is a dumb purse snatcher. The false charge alone is insulting enough -- being falsely stopped in itself is embarrassing.

According to Tripp, it took almost two weeks for Chief Ballantine to respond to his letter, and even after a month later in a meeting with him, the police chief still was turtle-like in his response to the professor's concerns.

In this meeting, which also included SCSU professor Semya Hakim, Nancy Jessee, who represented new school president Earl Potter, and other school and city folk, Ballantine told Tripp that he can't act on complaints against his officers unless a formal complaint is filed. Apparently the July 10 letter that Tripp sent to him didn't constitute as a formality. After the meeting, the professor said he did file a formal complaint, but as of now, no action has been taken.

We finally went to press with the story ("Council on Black Minnesotans takes on St. Cloud racial profiling") this week after Tripp decided to talk publicly about it (see

"The city is much more backwards than the campus," Tripp says of St. Cloud, whose too many of its police officers believe that they live not in the heart of central Minnesota but in Dixie.

He says that the October 9 CBM hearing, which he plans to attend, should finally bring the racial profiling issue to the forefront as important enough to be dealt with. "Once we educate more people about this," he adds, "then hopefully we will be better able to mobilize (Blacks) and bring more pressure on the city council and the mayor."

However, Davis, a St. Cloud State education professor currently on sabbatical, isn't as optimistic. The CBM have been in the city before, "They come and listen, and that's it," notes Davis. "We have been talking abut this (racial profiling) for years," notes Davis. "You have all these meetings, and they are like 'feel-good' sessions. You go there, and they say this and that, and nothing happens."

When Blacks are silent, afraid to rock the boat or both, then city officials easily can dismiss a charge such as Tripp's, Davis continues. Despite Ballantine's pledge that he will clean up things in his department, "no real change" have been seen by Davis and others.

"It is alarming," CBM executive director Lester Collins says on the continuing problems in St. Cloud. He disagrees with Davis -- next week's hearing will be productive, he promises. "We are planning to forward our findings, concerns and (the St. Cloud's Black community) voice to (the Minnesota legislature) and back to the city officials themselves."

As I head back to St. Cloud or as it is better known to many Blacks, "White Cloud," it will be interesting to see what kind of hearing indeed will take place: the productive and educational one that Tripp and Collins foresee, or another Dr. Phil session as Davis fears. As the Black citizenry of St. Cloud will not act like the guy in "Network" -- "Mad as hell and won't take it anymore." Or go back quietly into the night, allowing St. Cloud police officers to continue acting like Deputy Dawgs in their views about Blacks driving , and now walking around their fair White city.

Either way, I will file a report for our October 17 edition.

No comments: