First Black police chief in Minneapolis leaves much undone 

December 15, 2021 6:00 am

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo details the city’s preparations for the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

It is difficult to countenance Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s betrayal of the Black citizens who greatly helped put him in that job.

Indeed, before he assumed the position in 2017, it would’ve been unthinkable. But, well, here you have it. Rondo, as he’s informally known, did nothing concrete about the department’s occupying-army treatment of a population desperately in need of a strong ally, beyond mandating body cams. His ordering fewer marijuana stops is laudable but not much more than politically correct. And he hardly deserves a pat on the back for the no-brainer of firing Derek Chauvin and his accomplices, taking a bow by testifying in court. At length, however, he sided with the enemy, then, with the announcement that he’s retiring next month, he blithely went on about his business.

When Arradondo’s name came up for consideration, the roar of support from Black folk, led by the likes of such veteran activists as Rev. Jerry McAfee, Spike Moss and Bill English, was not to be ignored. Had it been denied, all hell likely would’ve broken loose: protests up and down the streets and sidewalks in front of City Hall, demands for Mayor Jacob Frey’s head on a spike, the whole nine. 

Rondo rode that wave of popularity to a position that gave him the opportunity to make change in which people could actually believe. And he’d proven himself the perfect person to do it. Rondo, hometown hero, came up through the ranks and, importantly, there was a time he was committed to improving the MPD. As a lieutenant, alongside Sgt. Charlie Adams, Lt. Lee Edwards, Lt. Dennis Hamilton and Lt. Don Harris, he filed suit to do something about the department’s entrenched racism, specifically a history of systemic discrimination and a hostile work environment for Black officers. The city settled for $740,000.  

Arradondo told reporters in June 2020, “We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interest at heart.” Hogwash. That department hadn’t materialized in the previous four years, has yet to materialize since then, and he is leaving with that job undone, failing to keep his word.

More to the point, last year, he turned on Deputy Chief Art Knight like a snake. Knight, calling a spade a spade, had the floor yanked from under him for his candor. He said what everybody knew.

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

Instead of standing behind Knight for that gutsy statement, Arradondo threw him under the bus. Unnecessarily.  He could’ve kissed the right behinds with a suspension perhaps, some sort of mere slap on the wrist for not being p.c., but you don’t demote a man for saying what is plain as the nose on one’s face.

When those same revered community leaders who’d had his back called on him to reinstate Knight as deputy chief/chief of staff, Arradondo flatly refused. Knight has since sued the city.

When Arradondo walks away from the job, it won’t be with any sort of lasting legacy. He will have amounted to an affirmative action token from whom great things were expected but who, instead, did a meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss.

Dwight Hobbes is a longtime Twin Cities journalist and essayist.

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