At work, I received an email from someone who says that they are a police officer in Minneapolis in the wake of I Fit the Description…. I am not posting the person’s name, because I do not want to get sued for libel. There are a lot of laws set up to protect police officers, which is one of the reasons this individual feels empowered to email me.
I am posting this for two reasons. The first, to show that this is the kind of intimidation that happens when Black people try to frame the dialog on policing around their own experience. The second is because I sent a reply-not to this person, to the Chief of Police in Minneapolis-and if anything happens to me, that is the first place people should look. I admit to my paranoia. My reply (with links) is below.
6 January 2019
Chief Medaria Arradondo
Chief of Police
Minneapolis Police Department
350 South 5th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1389
Dear Chief Arradondo:
I am writing to advise you of an unsolicited email I received from someone claiming to be a Sergeant XXXXXXXXXX of the Domestic Assault Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department. A copy of that email is provided as an enclosure to this letter.
I am a college professor in Boston, Massachusetts. Back in December of 2015, I wrote about my experience being detained by members of the Boston Police Department on my way to get lunch. That first person account, titled I Fit the Description…. was written for my blog and shared via social media, where it went “viral.” That text was a catalyst for a a larger discussion of policing in the city of Boston, a difficult and necessary conversation that we needed to have. In its aftermath three years ago, I had in-depth conversations with then police chief William Evans and Mayor Marty Walsh. These conversations were fruitful, honest, and forward-looking.
Fast forward to today, when that post from three years ago was shared on Facebook and again went “viral.” This time, the story prompted Sergeant XXXXXXXXXX to contact me email me on 19 December via the school where I teach, sending me a message that contained questions for me regarding my first-person account. Anyone trained in rhetoric and argument can see that the point of this letter is not to ask questions but to undermine and diminish my account. His message closes with a quote he misattributes to George Orwell regarding the necessity for “rough men” and violence to ensure peace. Using this quote as a closing makes Sergeant XXXXXXXXXX’s implication clear: what happened to me was necessary in order to make sure people are safe, a necessary sacrifice. This is essentially a message of “shut up and take it,” not exactly the mindset one would associate with an officer in a Domestic Assault Unit.
I bring this to your attention because, frankly, I cannot believe that a police officer in Minneapolis, just 2+ years after the loss of Philandro Castile, would write such a letter-especially an officer that is part of a Domestic Assault Unit. I cannot believe that a trained law enforcement officer would send such an accusatory message to a stranger-in particular one who wrote an account of being traumatized by the police-in order to diminish, discount, and dismiss their experience. I cannot believe that a
sophisticated, urban police department, one that has a demonstrated commitment to the National Initiative for Building Trust & Legitimacy would have a member in its ranks that would send such a message.
Lastly, I cannot believe that a law enforcement officer would close such a message with an fake quote attributed to a great anti-fascist as implication of support for state violence. The quote Sergeant XXXXXXXXXX attributes to George Orwell is actually from an article written by neoconservative Richard Grenier, a columnist for the Washington Times, a newspaper with a long history of racist claims, conspiracy theories, and and ad hominem attacks against former President Barack Obama. These are Grenier’s words, not Orwell’s: ”As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Anyone who has read Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism and sees it as a support for state violence in the service of peace and safety is willfully misreading the work. These are Orwell’s words from 1945:
If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST: The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
I am well aware of what law enforcement faces; I have relatives that have served as police officers and federal marshals. I am not “anti-cop.” I know for a fact that there are many well trained law enforcement officials, I have met some of them. I know also many in law enforcement who read my account with concern and compassion and understood that I provided them with a window into the mindset of an innocent black person and the sophisticated mental calculus black people do in interactions with the police.
Chief Arradondo, I am bringing this to your attention because it is my profound hope that this person is not a member of your ranks. If they are not, I hope that you can locate them and make certain that they suffer the consequences of impersonating an officer. If Sergeant XXXXXXXXXX is indeed a member of your department, I confess that I am very grateful that I live in Massachusetts where it is unlikely that I will come in contact with this officer. Even still, I must honestly admit my trepidation and fear of retaliation in even contacting you about this.
In any event is my profound hope, as a lifelong teacher, that this creates an opportunity for some training and education.
Arthur Knight, Deputy Chief-Chief of Staff, Minneapolis Police Department
Henry Halvorson, Deputy Chief-Professional Standards, Minneapolis Police Department
Dave Hutchinson, Sheriff-Elect, Hennepin County
Libor Jany, Minneapolis Star Tribune