Enlightened Self-Interest

In life, where you stand very often depends on where you sit. And when it comes to the police, I have usually taken the stand that they have to be monitored very closely, especially when it come to relationships with black and brown people. I have a lot of personal and collective history that bred this well-founded distrust. During Mississippi’s hot summers of the early 60s, white cops brutalized my parents and many other civil rights workers. I saw Rodney King getting the stuffing beat out of him on videotape. I have been stopped in my car just for being black. In fact, I have sued police on behalf of people claiming racially motivated abuse. That was all before I changed where I sit. Nine months ago, I remarried and moved from Richfield to North Minneapolis. Now that I live less than six blocks from the Jordan neighborhood, Minneapolis’ gangbanger central, I can no longer afford the luxury of automatically distrusting the police.

I live in what is euphemistically called a neighborhood in “recovery.” Malcolm X once remarked that if you wanted to find the “so-called Negro” in any large American city, you just had to find the neighborhood with a school named after Abe Lincoln and with homes abandoned by Jews. This is certainly true of my stretch of the North Side, where prosperous Jewish families built handsome homes 80 to 100 years ago. Then in the 60s and 70s, just as Malcolm predicted, the soul brothers moved in (and to be fair, did a little rioting on Plymouth Avenue) and the kosher brothers moved out. In the 80s home values plummeted to fire-sale prices across most of the once glorious North Side. In the last 10 years, rising home prices in nicer parts of town and decreasing crime in the area has given these homes a well-deserved second wind. And the Minneapolis police deserve much of the credit for the turnaround.

The key to their success? The “Computer Optimized Deployment Focused on Results” program, also known as CODEFOR. According to Minneapolis police Lt. Troy Schmitz, the program uses computer data to figure out “where the action is,” thereby allowing the police to concentrate their efforts where “bad things are happening.” Now, as I suggested before, given my strong civil-libertarian/free-the-Jackson-Five bent and with images of Birmingham and Rodney King dancing in my head, I believed CODEFOR could easily give rogue cops cover for jacking up anyone, particularly African American males, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I must admit that these very legitimate worries take on a different view when one sits, eats, and sleeps within a 20-minute walk of the city’s greatest concentration of gangbangers. According to recent statistics, the Jordan neighborhood is seeing increasing turf wars between the Vice Lords, the Gangsta Disciples, and other gangs. Minneapolis police chief Robert Olson, who recently bested Mayor R.T. Rybak in a turf battle of his own, decided the best defense is a good offense and, using CODEFOR, is turning up the heat in Jordan and adjacent neighborhoods like mine.

According to Capt. Stacy Altonen, commander of special investigations, the police really do know who most of the bad guys are. Lt. Schmitz confirms that Minneapolis police keep lists and pictures of known “gangstas” and that the police watch them more closely. The civil rights lawyer side of me is a tad bit nervous about that. The “I-live-just-six-blocks-away” side is very comfortable with this, thank you very much.

This year, Minneapolis has had 19 homicides as of July 19. All but one were either gang-or drug-related. Seventeen of the 19 murder victims were African American males ages 18-39. Half of them lived in Jordan. The true underlying causes are the usual suspects—unemployment, dysfunctional families, lousy educations, and institutional racism. I do not want to let anyone off the hook who has contributed to or can help alleviate these systemic incubators for gang violence. However, cop bashing does not change the cold hard fact that nearly all Minneapolis’ murders this year stem from African American gang members killing each other, or worse yet, other African Americans unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. So, MPD please, please use CODEFOR with my blessing if it helps keep this mayhem far away from my family and me.

Clinton Collins, Jr. is a Minneapolis attorney and commentator.