Sunday, April 11, 2010
Community Dialogue Gets as Spicy as Papaya Salad
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman
On Saturday, April 10th, the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing put together a meeting to discuss getting a Hmong police officer on the day shift in the fourth precinct. This was a follow-up meeting to one that happened in September of last year. In that meeting, we were told that the police contracts made it impossible to get a Hmong police officer on the day shift for a very long time.
But the MNCO folks and a Hmong attorney looked over the police contracts in question. What they found was that...
...this is not necessarily the case. Let's break down what we were told vs. what is actually in the police contracts.
First, there are three Hmong police officers in the 4th Precinct and all are on the night shift. There is one Hmong Park Police officer in NoMi, but he is not part of the Minneapolis Police Department. Both city officials and police representatives have said that putting the MPD officers on the day shift is not permitted because new police officers are required to work their first five years on the overnight shift.
The contract, however, states, "Newly Hired Employees shall be assigned to work on the Night Watch for at least twelve (12) months during their first two (2) years of employment."
Police and city officials have also said that the 4th Precinct Hmong police officers cannot be placed on the day shift because non-Hmong officers have seniority and the police union contracts dictate that senior officers have priority for choosing such shifts.
The contract, however, states, "...the precinct commander should give primary consideration to the most senior volunteer. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the precinct commander is not required to select the most senior person;" According to MNCO's reading of the contract, such assignments can be made based on qualifications and abilities (such as the ability to speak Hmong) and not solely on seniority.
A police spokesman has also said that the police union contract would have to be renegotiated to permit moving a 4th precinct Hmong officer to the day shift. However, the contract states, "Filling Assignments. The Department retains the right to establish and and modify in its sole discretion the selection process and criteria used to select personnel to fill Non-Bid Assignments...Scheduling. The Department retains the right to establish work schedules for Non-Bid Assignments."
Here are several other highlighted texts from the contract that are pertinent to getting a Hmong police officer on the day shift in the 4th Precinct: "Temporary Change in Shifts...The Department shall have the right to temporarily depart from the posted schedule of shift assignments." "Nothing in this article shall be construed as a limitation or restriction upon the Department respecting the scheduling of employees..." "Nothing herein shall be construed as a limitation upon the Employer's managerial prerogatives...except as expressly set forth in this agreement."
A Police official also stated that the Hmong population was no longer concentrated in the 4th Precinct as it was in 2000. Those of us who live here know that is not the case, but having a report from the Minneapolis Public Schools helps. This indicated the primary language spoken at home in the 2009-2010 school year, and showed that the concentration of Hmong residents in north Minneapolis has not significantly decreased since the 2000 Census.
The organizers and the community were armed with this knowledge coming into this meeting. Even though residents expected to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable, there did not seem to be an antagonistic attitude from the Hmong people in attendance. They seemed to want to simply continue the dialogue, knowing that a flat-out "no" was not an acceptable answer anymore. But the meeting got off to a positive start when Lt. Lindbeck and CMs Samuels and Hofstede were thanked for helping to keep some Hmong officers on board as new MPD recruits in spite of budget problems.
Organizers Jay Clark and Yia Yang helped draw out some answers from the group. There was a pattern that happened with every single family. Organizers would ask, "Are you having problems with crime on your block." The answer would be no. But a deeper conversation with kids and families would reveal that Hmong families are dealing with drug dealing, robberies, assaults, arson, prostitution, and other issues.
Then a series of questions were asked where the attendees raised their hands.
Through this exercise, we learned that virtually every Hmong in attendance was not born in the US, virtually every Hmong person did not speak English at home, roughly half of the room said they'd arrived since 2004, and only three people said they would feel comfortable having a conversation in English.
Some stories were told about experiences with criminal activity, and then Blong Yang highlighted the findings in the police contract. "The idea that this is impossible is flat-out wrong," he said.
Then Lt. Bret Lindback spoke. Lindback has extensive experience working with the Hmong community in the 4th Precinct, and in discussions afterward, it was clear he knows much more than I do about Hmong history and culture.
But there's really no way to sugarcoat his actions and demeanor at this meeting. He was standoffish and even aggressively condescending. He said he'd been having these same discussions since 1994 and expects that these same kinds of discussions will continue to happen long after he retires. He also said things like, "This is not my first rodeo," and "You had an opportunity to lecture us, now I'm going to lecture you."
And it happened again! The Johnny Northside blog was scooped by North News. Margo Ashmore put up a story about this event before I did, and detailed much of Lindback's rant. I'm going to give her credit where credit's due and also save the time of typing out a very similar version. Go and read her article.
In fairness to Lindback, many of his proposals were good, solid ideas and I hope we can get to work on them quickly. But the delivery of those proposals was not conducive to building a strong relationship between the Hmong and the 4th Precinct. Also, he later apologized for his remarks and demeanor, saying he initially felt that the meeting was designed to make him and the MPD look foolish, and he realized this was not the case.
A businessman named Her spoke about how he's lived and run a business in north Minneapolis for twenty years. He said that he wants to build trust between the Hmong community and the MPD, but Lindback's responses were not what they had come to discuss. He thanked Samuels and Hofstede for their attendance and visibly choked up when he said he was disappointed with the Lieutenant (although those statements were made before the apology).
Don Samuels spoke next.
Samuels said that he wants to make sure the request to meet with NoMi CM's three times a year is upheld, and that "an ongoing conversation is better than a relationship based on problems." He told the room he knows what it's like to be bullied and he knows what it's like to be an immigrant, although he cannot relate to experiencing a language barrier.
CM Samuels also helped smooth things over by saying that even the strong exchange of ideas that was just held was a good thing. The intensity of a conversation means people are speaking from their hearts, and not that either side should go away or stop talking to each other.
CM Hofstede followed Samuels.
She said she came from an immigrant family and that English was not the language spoken in her household growing up. She appreciated the straightforward conversation we were having, and told the Hmong community, "You belong here. I want you to stay, generation after generation."
At this point, Lindback offered his mea culpa and gave out his cell phone number, saying that people should call him if they have concerns. If they can't speak English, leave a message in Hmong and he'd find a translator.
Don Samuels said he and Council President Barb Johnson had met with 4th Precinct Inspector Mike Martin about this issue shortly after the September meeting. They all agreed that one Hmong officer on the day shift would be helpful but would not solve all our problems. Three, or five might not even do it. So we need to be creative in coming up with solutions. We need more Hmong people calling 911, an intern that could help with translation might be useful, and ongoing community meetings would be necessary.
Samuels told of his first experiences as a city council member, and how he was "tired of seeing white cops arrest black kids." But many African-American policeman in the northside had said the African-American criminals actually treated them worse because of their common race. So Samuels said he understands what the Hmong community is trying to do, but we also need to work to make it desirable for a Hmong officer to be on the day shift in the 4th Precinct.
Blong then said to the group, "If we're still struggling with communicating twenty years later, we've failed." By that time the food was ready and we got down to the best part of the meeting: the spicy papaya salad.
Here's hoping the communal feeling of breaking bread (ok, in this case, noodles) together carries over into our efforts to build a healthy dialogue between our Hmong residents and the MPD.