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Flowers incident rekindles fear and frustration for Minneapolis’ black community

Hennepin County jail
Al Flowers booking photos showing head and facial injuries.

For many of the community leaders who assembled Tuesday at the Minneapolis Urban League, the alleged beating of activist Al Flowers by police has re-opened a long-standing wound.

The meeting came four days after Flowers had an altercation with police officers at his south Minneapolis home Friday night, an incident that put the community activist in jail for several hours and left him with head and facial injuries. 

Speakers at the event, addressing a crowd of about 100, expressed their anger and frustration over the arrest, accusing the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) of racial profiling and intimidation against the African-American community. “This is old in our community,” said Spike Moss, a longtime civil rights leader. “We have suffered from brutality of police all across this country, everything from savage beatings to murders.”

Al’s incident is not isolated,” said the Rev. Jerry MacAfee, head of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. Those of you who have been around here for awhile, you know we’ve been fighting this for quite some time. The tragedy is that the climate has not changed.

Flowers himself told the crowd that police officers came that night to his house to arrest his daughter. He said that he followed instructions and simply asked them to show a warrant for his daughter’s arrest. “I thought I did everything right and I got caught off guard,” Flowers said. “And once they attacked, I felt every blow, every 30 to 40 blows to my head, to my ribs.”

MPD declined to comment on the matter, citing an ongoing investigation. In a press conference last Saturday, though, Police Chief Janeé Harteau said she is frustrated by what happened, but added that she didn’t want the case “to be a further distraction from the important work we are doing and this will be our department’s last remarks regarding this matter.”

Al Flowers
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Al Flowers appearing at a community
meeting with a bruised face, injured head
and red eye.

On Tuesday, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Harteau issued a joint statement announcing that the city would seek an independent investigation into what happened. “Chief Harteau and I decided together that transparency and fairness for Mr. Flowers, the Police Department and the community are best served by an independent investigation,” Hodges said in the statement. “We intend to identify the leader of this investigation in the coming days.”

Flowers appeared at the meeting Tuesday with a bruised face, injured head and red eye. “I couldn’t lie down,” he said. “I couldn’t get no rest because I know I gotta keep going. We got a big fight.”

City Council Member Blong Yang addressed the relationship between law enforcement and the black community, saying he believes the MPD has been making progress in improving its relationship with the city’s communities of color. But with the Flowers incident, “we’re taking some steps back.”

“It’s disappointing,” said Yang. “I don’t want people to feel that way. I want people to have faith in our police department that they’re doing the best they can.”

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Reflecting on strained relations between MPD and local communities of color, activist Abdirizak Bihi recalled a 2002 incident where MPD officers shot and killed Abu Kassim Jeilani, an unarmed, mentally ill Somali man.

Since then, Bihi told the crowd, the community has been working with the police department. Some progress has been made, he added, but the issue still exists. “If Al Flowers is not safe in Minneapolis, we are not safe.” 

Yang, who represents part of north Minneapolis, asked that people reserve judgment until officials close the investigation and the facts are presented from both sides.

“Folks within the city are trying really hard to fix this,” he said. “We’ll do what we can on the inside to try to work this out.”

Twin Cities black communities condemn the alleged police beating of activist Al
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Twin Cities black communities condemn the alleged police beating of activist Al Flowers.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/30/2014 - 02:00 pm.

    Skimming over crucial facts

    Let’s set aside what happened to Mr. Flowers. I still want him to explain why he demanded to see a warrant when (a) he has a daughter with a criminal past; (b) she’s currently under criminal court supervision; and (c) at the time the police arrived, she was in violation of the terms of that supervision. It seems Flowers behavior was confrontational at best. Maybe this is a factor in police/minority relations? What example does this set for a child who already has trouble with the rule of law?

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 07/30/2014 - 02:27 pm.

      Just asking

      having a criminal past – I don’t recall, is that illegal. Maybe your saying that the police have free reign to arrest whom they want, just because and asking to see that legal document is grounds for a beat down. Sounds reasonable to me.

      • Submitted by Zack Selzman on 07/30/2014 - 02:50 pm.

        No, I believe what he meant was..

        That in order to get house arrest you need to have the household members agree that the Police are free to enter the residence at any time and that as a person on house arrest his daughter had no expectation of a warrant. A warrant was not needed and in order for her daugher to have a bracelet rather than being incarcerated all the members of the household were aware of that and had to have signed waivers… So, that being the case.. why would he ask for a Warrant? His daughter was a ward of the state and her home was open to any and all police officers serving the state in their capacity of her home incarceration. There was no valid reason to intervene, by impeding the police he had broken the law.. and he had to have signed a document stating that he understood the terms at the start of his daughters home incarceration.

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/30/2014 - 03:14 pm.


    What is the daughter’s record?

  3. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/30/2014 - 04:22 pm.

    Ahh, in fact it is!

    Yes, being a criminal is, by definition, the result of illegal behavior. But let me ask you this Kurt, why did you choose to skip my opening sentence? Is it because you really can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for Flower’ behavior? Don’t feel bad…no responsible parent can.

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 07/30/2014 - 10:03 pm.

      I don’t feel bad

      I also didn’t conflate prior criminal behavior (past) with being a criminal (current), A criminal past is just that, past.
      But Jackson, Flowers did what any good parent would have done, protect his child (too bad that offends your delicate moral balance). The police were most likely out of bounds (again and again and again), but they will get a pass, one of those thugs might even get an award for his bravery.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/31/2014 - 07:58 am.

        At least your agenda is obvious

        First, this isn’t PAST behavior, the girl is on court supervision right now! And no, a “good” parent doesn’t hide his child from the justice system by needlessly demanding a warrant. A “good” parent turns his child over to face the consequences of her inappropriate behavior. That’s how we teach people to be responsible adults. What message does Flowers send to his child when he attempts to thwart the police in picking up his child, who is some 6 hours past the time she was supposed to be home? I guess in Your World the criminal justice system is merely a nuisance.

        See, the initial story is about improving police/minority relations. And there are 2 sides to that relationship. I simply separated them. We simply don’t know if the police acted inappropriately or not. If the answer is “not”, then we can deal with that. But people like you Kurt refuse to look at the 2nd half of the relationship. By his own admission, Flowers acted inappropriately. Why didn’t he just explain to the cops why his daughter was late, then turn her over. At worst, the whole situation would have been addressed in court he next day. Instead, Flowers decided to be confrontational. Maybe he should spend a little less time being an “activist” and a little more time in parenting classes. If Flowers wants to understand why cop/minority relations are poor, he need look no further than his own mirror and attitudes such as yours.

  4. Submitted by Robert Ryan on 07/30/2014 - 04:23 pm.

    Just more lousy police work.

    Apparently, the only offense that a police officer can commit that will result in discipline is insulting the Chief’s sexual orientation. Beating up community members almost never results in discipline. According to an article in the Strib from August 28th last year, of the 439 complaints filed with the Police Conduct Review Board between fall of 2012 and August of 2013, not a single case resulted in an officer being disciplined. Statistics like that can only mean one thing – the system is biased in favor of the police. I don’t think the police can be trusted to investigate themselves. Citizens apparently feel that way also, based on the number of civil suits filed against the police for misconduct. Almost 50 percent of civil suits result in a settlement of some sort in favor of the individual filing the complaint.That’s probably a more realistic indication of the amount of misconduct than the 0/439 result.

    The type of policing that goes on in Minneapolis and in many other jurisdictions around the country is simply lousy police work. Cops rely on assault and battery because it’s easier than using good police tactics, and they know they won’t be held accountable. I’m pretty sure there was a way to deal with Mr. Flowers’ questions that did not involve beating him up.

    The public has the right to expect more accountability and transparency and Chief Harteau needs to stop hiding behind the “we can’t comment” excuse.

  5. Submitted by Paul Linnee on 07/30/2014 - 04:24 pm.

    Clarity is needed regarding “demanding to see a warrant”

    As a long time ago cop, I need to remind people that the concept of ‘demanding to see a warrant’ in an arrest situation is a non-starter. One can demand and has a right to see a SEARCH warrant, as that is specific to a location and what is to be searched for and needs to have been applied for and granted on those grounds. Therefore, anybody doing a SEARCH should possess and display said warrant.

    But, as it relates to ARRESTS (as opposed to SEARCHES) there is absolutely NO REQUIREMENT for the officers attempting the warrant-based arrest to have said warrant in their possession, much less display it upon demand. The vast, vast majority of warrant based arrests (as opposed to probable cause arrests based on the arresting officer’s own, personal observations) do NOT involve the arresting officer(s) possessing said warrant. In most cases, warrant-arresting officers are sent to ‘location X” to pick up named”party Y” for whom they are told by trusted sources a warrant exists for their arrest. In other warrant arrest cases, officers investigating a party (such as in a traffic stop) make an inquiry (either verbal to their dispatcher or via their squad car computer terminal) into either (or both) the State of MN and National Crime Information Centers (NCIC), and if said query results in a “HIT” (meaning a warrant has been issued for the party’s arrest), the officer is then required (by policy, and not law) to have the existence & validity of said warrant confirmed in real time and verbally before affecting the arrest.

    None of this is said to take one side or the other in this issue, but as folks digest the to-be-forthcoming statements from the Flowers camp and the City (and don’t forget the MPD Union), keep these facts in mind.

  6. Submitted by Ed Newton on 07/30/2014 - 08:08 pm.

    Perspective from Minnpost archive

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