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VOL. 45 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 24, 2021

Probe: Michaels, Minnesota cops violated Black teen's rights

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The manager of a suburban Minneapolis Michaels store called police on a teenager looking for a job simply because he is Black, and officers then used unreasonable force against him because of his race, a state agency that investigates civil rights abuses said in findings released Thursday.

The 16-year-old boy repeatedly said "I want to live" and "Don't kill me" as Brooklyn Center police were restraining him during a March 2019 incident that started when the store manager called police because the teen is Black, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found.

Both the police department and Michaels Stores Inc. violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act and discriminated against the teen, the agency found, noting that it would seek monetary relief for the teen as well as structural changes to the police department and store.

"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," Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. "What happened to this kid is a clear violation of his dignity and his civil rights."

A spokesman for the police department, which has been under scrutiny since one of its officers shot Black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April, forwarded a request for comment to the city, which did not respond.

A spokesperson for Michaels, which is headquartered in Irving, Texas, said the arts and crafts store disagrees with the findings based on the facts and plans to appeal. "We take any claim of discrimination very seriously and work every day to make Michaels as inclusive and diverse as possible," the statement said. The store where the incident took place has since closed.

The teenager, whose name wasn't released, said in a statement that "the scariest day of my life started with applying for a job at Michaels. Police were called because of my skin color and they abused me to the point I thought I was going to die."

According to the investigation, the teenager was trying to apply for a job at the Michaels store when a white store manager, who employees said had a history of racially profiling Black customers, called police, saying the teen was causing a disturbance and would not leave.

Surveillance video from the store shows the teen was acting like a typical customer when the manager asked him to leave and that he hadn't been causing a disturbance, the investigation found. He voluntarily left but returned, believing he had been kicked out because of his race, the investigation found. The manager and another employee met him in the vestibule and blocked him from entering the store. They yelled at each other until the teen walked away, without touching anyone, the investigation found.

The manager called police again and said the teen was a "tyrant customer," "hostile" and starting to "touch" employees, the investigation found.

When three white Brooklyn Center police officers arrived and found the teen in another store, he appeared frightened and put his hands in the air, the Department of Human Rights found. The officers did not follow their training and immediately used unjustified and unreasonable force, it determined.

Two officers threw the teen to the ground and, while he was face down, they and a sergeant grabbed and pulled on his dreadlocks, put a knee into his back and handcuffed him, the investigation found.

While on the ground, the teen cried out, "Don't kill me, I want to grow up," the Human Rights Department said. The agency said that body camera footage shows the officers yanked the teen up, took him outside and put him against a brick wall as he continued to plead for his life.

The investigation found that body camera footage, which was not made public but described in the agency's findings, contradicted police reports and officers' testimony. In one instance, an officer said that the teen, who was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds, fought with officers and engaged in a "temper tantrum." In a report meant to justify the police use of force, the officer also said he commanded the teen to put his hands behind his back.

However, the investigation found that no command was given and that the teen didn't fight. It found that the body camera footage showed he was compliant and unarmed, and that he made no attempt to flee, raised his hands to surrender and was "clearly frightened."

The investigation found that the actions of the officers were "so unreasonable that race discrimination is the only likely explanation for their behavior."

The Brooklyn Center Police Department has faced heavy criticism since Officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot and killed Wright during a traffic stop. Potter, who is charged with manslaughter and who resigned after the shooting, said she mistook her handgun for her Taser. The shooting prompted days of protests, and the City Council in May voted in favor of a resolution that puts the city on track to making changes to its policing practices, including limiting situations in which officers can make arrests.

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