Protesters Cite Discrimination In Call For Minneapolis Police Union Head To Step Down
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to head now to Minneapolis, which has been the focal point for much of the national conversation around police practices. Many residents are calling for the controversial head of the police union there to step down. And some officers appear to be breaking ranks with the union and embracing calls for a reform. NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As protest marches and demonstrations around the country demand broad changes to policing, protesters here in Minneapolis often focus on one cop in particular.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Bob Kroll must go.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Bob Kroll must go.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Bob Kroll must go.
SCHAPER: Lieutenant Bob Kroll heads the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union representing the city's more than 800 police officers.
MICHELLE GROSS: Bob Kroll is the president of this union. He's the head of the union. But he's also a cartoon character, frankly.
SCHAPER: Michelle Gross is president of the group Communities United Against Police Brutality. She says Kroll often makes comments she and others consider to be racist. He was named in a 2007 racial discrimination lawsuit filed against a police department by five black officers, including the current chief Medaria Arradondo. In 31 years, he's had 30 complaints filed against him. Kroll has been suspended and demoted and sued several times for using excessive force.
GROSS: And people are very, very sick and tired of the way that he vilifies victims of police and defends killer cops. People are done with it.
SCHAPER: In a letter to the rank and file a week after the killing of George Floyd, Kroll vowed to fight the firing of the four officers criminally charged in Floyd's death. He made no mention of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes but did mention Floyd's, quote, "violent criminal history." He called the protest a terrorist movement and political leaders' response despicable, saying police officers were being made scapegoats. Kroll did not respond to calls seeking comment. The police federation's phones are disconnected; its website, Facebook page and other social media accounts taken down.
Despite the silence, though, his presence looms large. In a conference call with reporters this week on efforts to revamp policing, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender acknowledged the union stands in the way.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE CALL)
LISA BENDER: But the police federation is a clear barrier to change, and that is the crux of any short-term changes within our department that they have opposed for years.
SCHAPER: But now more than a dozen police officers are breaking ranks with the union, signing an open letter to the people of Minneapolis saying we wholeheartedly condemn Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with Floyd's murder. The officers say they represent the vast majority of the Minneapolis Police Department and wrote that they stand ready to listen and embrace the calls for change, reform and rebuilding.
R T RYBAK: The fact of the matter is these officers are heroes and more need to follow.
SCHAPER: Former Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak knows some of the officers signing the letter well. Two served in his security detail. And he says it's a big step forward. But others here are skeptical. Community leaders and protesters point out that Bob Kroll was elected and re-elected police union president by wide margins. Last year, he didn't even have an opponent at winning his third two-year term, suggesting his support runs deep.
But Rybak says radical reform to policing is coming, regardless of where police officers stand.
RYBAK: They need to dramatically change their leadership and acknowledge how wrong some of these things are. If not, this change will happen, whether police choose to be part of it or not.
SCHAPER: Across the country, Bob Kroll is not an anomaly in police unions. There are similar controversial leaders in Chicago, Philadelphia and several other cities. And that's why this time so many activists say police departments cannot simply be changed, that cities need to dismantle them and start over.
David Schaper, NPR News, Minneapolis.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.