Losing faith on Father’s Day: Clashes with police shake confidence

Kemen+with+Josiah+SonBy Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva
TC Daily Planet
June 18, 2008

Kemen Taylor was heading home from Kentucky last Sunday, eager to spend Father’s Day with his family. He was in a car with three teens from Youth Enterprise, a Christian youth organization where he works. Around Hudson, Wisconsin, he got an alarming phone call from his wife, Ruth, who was in tears.

She told him that the family had returned to their North Minneapolis home around 8:00 p.m., after shopping for a Father’s Day gift. Before they could get out of their car, the police surrounded them, with guns drawn. The police officers asked them to get out of the car, and forced Ruth Taylor and her 21-year-old son to the ground. The police had mistaken the Taylors’ car for another vehicle involved in a shooting in the area. About ten minutes later, a witness arrived and stated that the Taylors were not the offenders.

Taylor got home from his trip 8:30 p.m. and immediately set off in search of the police who had been at his house. He located them a few blocks away. Sergeant Bantle of the Fourth Precinct also had arrived at the scene by that time. Although he had not been present at the Taylor residence, he apologized.

“[Bantle] explained everything and apologized. He was very nice about it and seemed upset about what had happened,” Taylor said.

According to the police report, three African American males, ages 27, 30, and 31 were arrested in connection with the shootings.

At about 10:30 p.m., Taylor returned home from an errand and found the police in his front yard. They had come to his house to investigate a complaint about fireworks. Taylor’s children and other neighborhood children had apparently set off ‘roman candle’ fireworks. The police officers asked Taylor for his ID, but Taylor told them he wanted to check on his children before talking any more.

At that point, the police grabbed him, handcuffed him and put him in a squad car for about fifteen minutes. According to the police report, the officers left without giving a citation for fireworks, instead citing Taylor for “obstruction.”

Telling the story the next day, Taylor choked back his tears and breathed deeply as he said, “Do you know what kind of example it sets to have that happen to you in front of your kids? On Father’s Day, no less!”

Jill Clark, an attorney who has represented many clients in police misconduct cases, says these incidents are indicative of what she sees as a general attitude in the Minneapolis Police Department. “That policy is ‘Force first. Words later,'” Clark said. “Rather than investigate first and use force as a last result. What ever happened to asking first?”

Lieutenant Rugel of the Fourth Precinct said he could not comment on the case. Jesse Garcia of the Minneapolis Police Department was not available for comment.

A community man

Taylor was surprised the police didn’t do more to find out about the situation or about his own record before resorting to force.

“Once I told them who I was—that I worked with youth and that I’m a pastor—you could just tell their voices changed and they said ‘oh we didn’t know!'” Taylor said. “Of course you didn’t know: you didn’t ask.”

Kemen Taylor spends his days silk-screening t-shirts and supervising teenagers on the second floor of a North Minneapolis church. The day after the police incidents, Taylor went back to work at the silk-screening workshop. T-shirts with the phrases “hope” and “keeper” lined up between heavy machines dripping with colorful paint. Ten teenage boys shuffled from one end of the room to another; stacking t-shirts, turning machines, thinning paint, and chatting.

Making t-shirts with Christian logos is the boys’ after-school job. While they work, Taylor delivers a healthy does of life and business skills. He makes sure the boys shake hands and introduce themselves. He jokes with them, while gingerly reminding them to clean up or get busy.

The group also occasionally travels. On Sunday Taylor was returning from Kentucky, where he had taken three of the youth to a festival to sell their t-shirts.

Besides his full-time job with Youth Enterprise, Taylor is the pastor of a Pentecostal church. He spends ten to twelve hours a week preparing his sermon and preaching to a congregation of 30 people.

Delwin Derksen, operations manager at Youth Enterprise, has worked with Taylor for five years. He was shocked to learn of the police conduct, particularly in the context of the message of support for the police that Taylor gives to the teens with whom he works.

“Kemen gives his whole life to kids, and he even houses kids from time to time if they are displaced.” Derksen said. “So here’s a guy who’s doing the right thing and who’s actually on the police side. He was always preaching this to our kids, you gotta respect the police. I’m glad at least it happened to Kemen and not one of our teens. Here we have young teens that we’re trying to teach, and imagine if that happens to you when you’re young. There’s going to be resentment against cops for life.”

Derksen said the incident had been a learning experience for him. “I’m white and I’ve lived in North Minneapolis for five years and I’m just starting to understand some things about living here.” Derksen said. “If you lived in another neighborhood would you expect them to start throwing your wife and kids down on the ground, with guns drawn, and cussing and cursing, not handling it in a professional manner and not doing any background checks? It just wouldn’t fly.”

What next?

The police officers’ attitude towards Taylor left him angry and frustrated, but unsure of what to do next. Sergeant Bantle had given Taylor a Police Conduct Incident Report after the incident with his wife and children. Taylor stored it in his car and left it blank all of Monday. He then found out about a community hearing about the Internal Affairs Unit of the police department on Monday—coincidentally taking place the day after his family’s encounters with the police.

The meeting was hosted by the Washington D.C.-based non-profit, Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The firm was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department to do an external audit of the police internal investigations process. The audit was approved by the City Council last year.

Approximately forty community members and non-profit leaders showed up Monday evening to vent about experiences with the internal affairs unit. Taylor listened to other community members’ complaints against the internal affairs unit for an hour and a half.

Community members cited incidents of retaliation against people who report police misconduct to internal affairs through techniques like “spotlighting,” (when the police shine lights on a residence), increased traffic violations, and charges on separate crimes. Meeting attendees also said they had little confidence in the internal affairs process because frequently police officers are not seriously reprimanded.

Jill Clark said that her experience with internal affairs unit, as a lawyer, led her to believe that the problems voiced at the meeting were indicators of a broken system. She said that many officers do not fully investigate other officers’ crimes for fear of retaliation from within. “Unless you make internal affairs a career track within the police,” she explained, “there will always be that fear of investigating with or for someone you will later be working with.”

Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department said the police department would present the findings from PERF to the City Council, most likely some time in August, depending on the Council’s schedule.

City Council Member Betsy Hodges, who pushed for the audit, said, “Given the nature of problem, and that this is meant to help solve it, community access is important.”

For his part, Kemen Taylor felt even less eager to fill out his police misconduct report after the audit hearing.

“I came here today expecting change,” he said, his voice wavering. “All I’ve heard is story after story about how nothing happens. If I report to internal affairs is nothing going to happen? I don’t see hope!

“I’ve been optimistic with the police department for twenty years. I’m done being optimistic.”

Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva (peterson.delacueva@gmail.com) does community outreach for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and contributes reporting.

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