Wednesday, May 14, 2014
City Department of Civil Rights Claims It Doesn't Have Jurisdiction To Investigate Claims Of Level Three Sex Offender Concentration In North Minneapolis, And Why, Incredibly, This Admission Is Some Kind Of Weird Bureaucratic Progress...
Photo that has been passed all over Facebook, no copyright is assumed.
Creative stock photo, Hawthorne EcoVillage circa 20008, "Apartment Complex Of Anarchy," blog post by John Hoff
Move Like Your Pants Are On Fire
I believe it was about 45 minutes after the City Council passed a resolution on Level Three sex offender concentration in North Minneapolis that I filed a complaint with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights about, well, what was it?
And why, you might wonder, did I file this complaint so soon after the resolution passed? And why haven't I blogged about it (I don't THINK I've blogged about it) until now?
(Have I ever mentioned the complaint I filed some 45 minutes after the resolution passed? I don't think I have, though I probably lobbied for "others" to file complaints on the pages of the red hot North Vent page, therefore implying out in the open perhaps I had filed one as well. I know I fired off some messages on Facebook, and I imagine those messages may have been passed around)
S.O.S., May Day, And Other "Universal Sign Of Distress" Metaphors
My in-the-moment political calculus was this: the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights was ALL OVER that resolution passed by City Council. As far as I can tell, they were involved in "word smithing" it. (Hey, I "applied for the job" but maybe I was "overqualified") So the minute that resolution passed, (quite literally, the MINUTE that resolution passed) it was essential to get the ball rolling by somebody filing an actual complaint with the Department.
Like an S.O.S. sent from a ship in distress, the complaint didn't have to be perfect, it just had to hit near the bulls eye and heaven knows THAT didn't require a second, third and fourth draft. I could and did bang out a perfectly serviceable complaint on a computer in the Hennepin County Law Library before the City Council meeting which passed the resolution was even over.
I figured either the city's Civil Rights Department was geared up to move on a complaint, right away, or the resolution passed by City Council was going to end up being nothing but political theater and window dressing with no teeth behind it...
In THAT case, the Department would dither, dither, dither over any complaint filed, and ultimately do nothing.
And then, of course, there was a "something in the middle" scenario between "move like your pants are on fire" and "let me make 99 trips to the water fountain while thinking about how I should handle the fact somebody went on faith over that Resolution and ACTUALLY FILED A COMPLAINT."
An "in the middle" scenario was the same as a scenario on either end of the spectrum: Let's move the thing forward and find out if we'll get any action. Any way it went, I was eager to claim the historical credit of filing the first complaint, like a soldier firing some of the first shots at Pearl Harbor.
If You Jumped Off A Bridge, Would You Want Your Friends To, As Well?
After I filed my complaint, I lobbied others to file complaints, as well. After all, different people are differently situated. Johnny Northside can say, "Hey, I ain't rich, that's one reason I live in North Minneapolis, but due to my lack of wealth the system takes advantage and dumps sex offenders all around me, knowing I can scarcely fight back like well-off people in Edina."
But with ancestors on either side of my family from Norway, Sweden and Czechoslovakia, I can hardly make a claim like, "Because I am black and live in a neighborhood with more black residents than any other neighborhood, the system takes advantage and dumps sex offenders all around me, knowing I can scarcely fight back like well-off people in, for example, St. Anthony."
But others can make that claim and complaint. I am pretty sure some others did, at my prodding and urging.
The Waiting Is The Hardest Part (Click here for musical link)
Well, then, we waited. We followed up. We waited. Emails went back and forth. I compiled a list of landlords who appeared to be the worst offenders, as far as this concentration went, and forwarded that list to the Department. Here is the list, click here, published on the internet for the first time ever.
It wasn't too long by bureaucratic standards (a few months) before the hang up was explained to me. Though my complaint and the complaints of others might appear solid enough, did the city's Civil Rights Department have authority to investigate it? Yes? No? If the city did not, would they refer it to the state? I learned, here and there, a complaint referred by the city to the state had a much better chance of being handled seriously than, for example, if the person filing the complaint (therefore the "complainer?") went directly to the state on their own.
I guess all along I assumed the state had some kind of jurisdiction if the city did not. I hardly think I was the only one who assumed such a thing.
Who Is In Charge, Here? (Crickets, crickets, crickets)
Nine days ago (hey, I get busy!) I received an email from the City Department of Human Rights saying this:
We have reached a point in our preliminary investigation, working with the State Department of Human Rights, in which we have determined that our Department (and State Department of Human Rights) does not have jurisdiction to investigate these claims.
-------------------------------------------To which I say: progress at last.
The question of "who has jurisdiction, here" was the burning question from the beginning. If there's an accusation that a city police officer beat a man without justification, everybody knows who has jurisdiction: the city and the state will fight to say they have jurisdiction like starving mongrel desert dogs fighting over a scrap of roadkill. Likewise, if the complaint is over a political hot potato, the answer is also easy.
"You must have jurisdiction, sir."
"I beg to differ, good sir. I'm thinking it's you."
"I'm pretty sure it's you, sir, that's what my lawyers say and I have some pretty good lawyers."
"I know. I trained them and then you hired them. And I know them well enough to realize they're wrong."
"I think you're insulting me."
"Think as you please. First Amendment, and all."
"Oh, now you HAVE insulted me."
"And what will you do about it? Pistols at dawn?"
"I'm thinking more like noon. Morning tea and all."
And so, at last, we come to the point I figured we'd come to all along: a resolution passed with much fanfare proves, over time, to have no teeth at all...
Or does it?
Get Your Jurisdiction! Delicious, Red Hot Jurisdiction!
Both the City and State Civil Rights Departments are, beyond a doubt, accustomed to investigating the "usual" complaints. And by "usual" I mean, "I allege somebody, acting under color of law, beat me by the side of the road. This is contrary to the 14th Amendment."
In contrast, a complaint about Level Three sex offender concentration in a poor, ethnically diverse neighborhood is a strange new thing, neither fish nor fowl. So it may very well be the wisest way to proceed is for the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department to say:
"Hey, we don't have jurisdiction, here! If somebody wants to give us jurisdiction, that's fine, we're bureaucrats and we do what we're told under our mandate. But we don't willy-nilly expand our mandate based upon shiny things that catch our eye. And oh, by the way, the State doesn't have jurisdiction, either."
Another alternative--and I won't know until some promised follow up correspondence is in my hands--is that the City and State Civil Rights Departments don't have jurisdiction over MY complaint on this issue. But they might have jurisdiction over somebody else's complaint, somebody who can make a claim on the basis of, for example, RACE.
So all in all, after a long wait, what do we have here?
We have what passes for progress among bureaucrats. It's so exciting I think this morning I will have BACON and listen to an 80s music station instead of NPR. I might even buy myself a new pen holder!
What ARE we going to do about that Level Three sex offender concentration issue in North Minneapolis?