In the Spotlight

News & Features
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Getting the 411 on the five-0
Larger view
Martell Edwards plays the role of a man involved in a police stop. Nakesha Caldwell plays a cop who tells him he fits the description of a man involved in a fight. (Brandt Williams)
The Minneapolis NAACP has begun a program called the, "411 on the five-0" , slang for the 'information on the police.' The program is aimed at educating community members about how the police do their jobs.

Minneapolis, Minn. — High school student Martell Edwards is in a situation experienced by many young black men his age. He's being confronted by a police officer who says he fits the description of a young man involved in a fight.

"Hey, look. All I'm doing, I just came from the store trying to get me some Boston Baked Beans and you come and stop me. What's all this about? I ain't did nothin', I'm just trying to enjoy my life," says Edwards.

Larger view
Image James Everett

Edwards is role-playing in a simulation. Minneapolis NAACP chapter vice president James Everett leads the exercise

"They pat him down and feel a suspicious bag in his pocket," announces Everett. "Do they have the right to remove the bag and see what's inside?"

The group of 15 African American teens and adults gathered at today's training session offer guesses. Some argue that the police can't examine the bag in the young man's pocket because he was suspected of fighting, not carrying drugs.

Legally, they're right. However, a Minneapolis police officer who listened to the presentation says, in the real world, the cops would take the bag. Sgt. Dennis Hamilton works in the 4th precinct in north Minneapolis.

"I'm not even going to play games with you," Hamilton says. "A lot of times it's the area you're in...they may know you were in a fight and also suspect you have drugs. Police officers are gung ho like that. They think you've something like that in there and well, they've got an arrest anyway. But, it's true. If we're not looking for you for weapons or something like that, we can pat frisk you on the outside, for our safety and for yours."

You want to have a constitutional law argument with the police? Of whether or not they violated your 4th Amendment right? Maybe you even cite some case law? That's a bad idea.
- Lawyer and State Representative Keith Ellison

The curriculum was designed by the national NAACP and the National Order of Black Law Enforcement executives. It includes a pocket-sized handout with tips on what to do when approached by a police officer while driving, walking on the street, or at home. The pamphlet instructs readers to be calm and courteous and to not give an officer any reason to mistreat them. And it tells people to remember the police officer's name and badge number in case they want to file a complaint.

The program also includes a lesson on the Fourth Amendment and various search and seizure scenarios. NAACP officials say the goal is to educate people on their constitutional rights. However, some say there are times when the display of that knowledge is not to one's advantage.

"You want to have a constitutional law argument with the police? Of whether or not they violated your 4th Amendment right? Maybe you even cite some case law? That's a bad idea," says State Representative Keith Ellison.

Ellison is a lawyer who has represented people with complaints against the police. He directs his message to the teenagers in the room. Ellison says they are the age group most likely to be the victims of police harassment.

"What you really need to do is keep your mouth quiet and ask for a lawyer or your parent as soon as you can," he says. "That's what you need to do, because you have no idea what you say and how it may be ultimately used to impact your life."

Ellison says bad relations between African Americans and the police is historic, widespread and hard to change. He says efforts like those put forth by the NAACP are needed because African Americans will suffer most if police/community relations don't improve.

Larger view
Image Session participants

One of the ways the black community suffers, says Ellison and others, is when a serious crime like murder is committed and people are too afraid or unwilling to come to the police with information. Three years ago a young boy was shot and killed in a north Minneapolis park. Police believe there were at least 20 witnesses in the park that day. However, no witnesses have come forth. And the killer has not been found.

Rick Maas is with the police department's community crime prevention SAFE program. He says when people don't come to them with information, they have to cast a wide net.

"They go to a certain area in a saturation -- and they just check everybody out -- over those, what you may think are bogus reasons to pull you over," says Maas. "They're trying to find information about people who might be involved in a situation. That's why it's so important - we got to work together. We can eliminate murderers walking around on the street, but we can also eliminate a lot of bogus reasons to get pulled over."

Many of the young people in the group reported having negative experiences with the police. Nakesha Caldwell says her grandfather was harassed by police officers after he was the victim of an assault by four men. She says if the police want African Americans to trust them, they have to show they're worthy of trust.

"The police need to make it their business to make sure community relations are right, because they can't just start with the people, all of sudden - just trust the police because of what they say they're going to do this - or they say they're going to do that - or they say that's what their goal is - when we first hand, experience different things," says Caldwell.

Another training session will be held in Minneapolis next month.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects