The Potluck

Michaels stores and Brooklyn Center police discriminated against Black teen, Human Rights Department finds

By: - September 23, 2021 10:49 am

Photo courtesy of Micheals.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced on Thursday that Michaels, the craft store chain, and the Brooklyn Center Police Department racially discriminated against a Black teenager who wanted to apply for a job and was instead roughly arrested without cause.

“The facts of this case are both shocking and unsurprising. There was no reason for Michaels to call the police. And no Black child should ever have to plead for their life from police,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero in a statement.

Having found probable cause for racial discrimination, the department will next require structural changes in the police department and Michaels through a settlement as well as monetary relief for the teenager.

The findings come as Brooklyn Center leaders are trying to remake the police department after former officer Kim Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year-old, during a traffic stop in April, leading to dayslongs protests outside the police station.

The Human Rights Department is currently investigating the Minneapolis Police Department to see if it has engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination over the past decade. That investigation was opened in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

A lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Department against the city of Minneapolis forced the department to implement a series of immediate reforms, including a ban on chokeholds, a requirement for officers to intervene if they witness excessive force and that the police chief make timely disciplinary decisions and publish them to the city’s website.

According to the Human Rights Department’s report on the Michaels incident, the 16-year-old went to Shingle Creek Crossing store in Brooklyn Center on March 19, 2019 and behaved “like a typical customer,” according to surveillance video described in the report.

A manager — a white woman also not named — called 911 to report that a Black “kid” with dreadlocks was “going through the store, playing with the balls… knocking stuff off shelves,” and that he wouldn’t leave after repeatedly being asked to do so.

Surveillance video shows the teenager did juggle a few items but put them back, while another store employee testified that he was not acting out of the norm and there was no reason to call the police on him.

The manager had a history of racial discrimination, according to the Department of Human Rights, whose investigators interviewed employees at the store. One employee told investigators that the manager “instructed employees to surveil and track all Black customers who entered the store, but only instructed employees to track white customers who appeared to be under the influence of drugs.”

The teenager did leave when asked by the manager but reentered in protest, believing he was asked to leave because he was Black.

The manager then had another store employee block the teen from reentering and called 911 again to report that the “tyrant customer” had returned and was touching her employees. Surveillance video does not show him touching employees.

Three police arrived shortly after the second 911 call was placed and one of the officers found the teenager shopping in a different store. He approached the teenager and reached to grab his arm, saying “Come here man.”

The teen stepped back, put up his hands and said, “Don’t touch me.”

The officer later testified that raising one’s hands up “is an assaultive posture demonstrating resistance.”

Another officer then entered the store, and together they threw the teenager to the ground, grabbed and pulled him by his dreadlocks, put a knee to his back and handcuffed him, according to the investigative report.

The teenager, while on the ground, cried out “Don’t kill me. I want to grow up.”

One officer replied: “Maybe you should stop fighting the police.”

He was then “jerked (up) by the handcuffs” and taken outside to a brick wall, where officers searched him. They did not give the teenager an opportunity to stand up on his own or provide any verbal instructions.

He was later transported to a hospital and charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing and obstructing the legal process — charges which were later dropped — and banned from entering Michaels for a year.

The Human Rights Department’s investigative report notes numerous differences between the police officers’ narrative of events, and what they saw in reviewing body camera footage from the officers and interviewing witnesses.

For example, officers said in their official reports that the teenager fought with them, and they assisted him up from the ground, which Human Rights investigators said was not true based on the officers’ bodycams.

Michaels and the Brooklyn Center Police Department couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.