Art Knight got demoted for saying we don’t need the same old “white boys” on the police force. He wasn’t wrong.

Minneapolis Police guard the third precinct on May 27, before it was taken over by rioters. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo made the wrong move when he demoted Deputy Chief Art Knight for calling out the Minneapolis Police Department on its racist culture. Knight simply shot from the hip, telling it like it is, and Arradondo’s overreaction damaged his standing in a Black community that passionately embraced his appointment.

Knight told the Star Tribune recently that the MPD needs to improve how it recruits, trains and promotes minorities and women, flatly stating, “If you keep employing the same tactics you’re just going to get the same old white boys.” 

For which he was reduced in rank to lieutenant.  

A simple word of sanction would have sufficed.

The consensus among Black Minneapolis residents I’ve spoken to is that Knight was just telling it like it is and ought to be immediately reinstated. The Minneapolis NAACP and grassroots activists Rev. Jerry McAfee and Al Flowers weighed in, as have Alicia Smith of MN Safe Streets and Lisa Clemons from A Mother’s Love — all showing support for Knight. 

Police Federation of Minneapolis President Bob Kroll, about whom we need say little more, defended the demotion, claiming (with a straight face?) that “the Minneapolis Police Department owes the citizens, visitors and people who work in Minneapolis the best qualified police officer, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion or creed. There is no room for racism in the Minneapolis Police Department.”  

Who does he think bought that line of b.s.? 

History bears out that the MPD is a stronghold of entrenched, institutionalized racism. In 2007, then-Lieutenant Medaria Arradondo, joined by Lt. Don Harris, Lt. Lee Edwards, Lt. Charlie Adams and Sgt. Lee Hamilton successfully sued the department for racial discrimination. Lisa Clemons, once an MPD sergeant, also sued the department, alleging that same hostile environment.  

Between 1997 and 2007, she went through eight employment administrative hearings against the department and two lawsuits that finally were settled to the tune of $737,500.

The George Floyd tragedy is just the most recent in a strongly established pattern of Minneapolis police fatally abusing their power. Before former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, killing him, David Smith was suffocated in 2010, Terrance Franklin was shot in 2013, Jamar Clark was shot in 2015 and Thurman Blevins and Travis Jordan were shot in 2018, in June and November respectively.  

The New York Times noted in June that ”about 20 percent of Minneapolis’s population of 430,000 is black. But when the police get physical — with kicks, neck holds, punches, shoves, takedowns, Mace, Tasers or other forms of muscle — nearly 60 percent of the time the person subject to that force is Black. And that is according to the city’s own figures. Since 2015, the Minneapolis police have documented using force about 11,500 times. For at least 6,650 acts of force, the subject of that force was black. By comparison, the police have used force about 2,750 times against white people, who make up about 60 percent of the population.” 

Do the math.

Suwana Kirkland, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office commander and president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Black Police Association, estimates that even though Black Minnesotans represent nearly 7% of the state’s population, of Minnesota’s roughly 11,000 law enforcement officers, 2% — less than 300 — are  Black and fewer still are Black women. 

If you are going to do something about the climate and culture that made George Floyd an international symbol of virulent police racism, you’re not going to do it by maintaining such a poor ratio of representation.  

In other words, by hiring the same old white boys.

Knight, a veteran on the force of almost 30 years, has worked hard to do something about the MPD’s selective protecting and serving. Before the demotion, as chief of staff he oversaw the community engagement and outreach bureau and led the procedural justice team. 

There are times to call a spade a spade. This was one of them. Arradondo wrongfully punished and humiliated Knight for having the guts to say what is as plain as day, calling the Minneapolis Police Department to account for its long standing culture of racism.