Martin Luther King Jr. was, and arguably still is, the most visible spokesperson and leader of the US civil rights movement. His brand of activism advocated nonviolent civil disobedience which made him more palatable as a spokesperson for the movement. Malcolm X, on the other hand, argued that as the government appeared unwilling or unable to protect black people that black people should protect themselves from aggressors and fight to secure freedom, justice and equality “by whatever means necessary.” This, of course, was less palatable to the white majority so Malcolm didn’t achieve mainstream endorsement in the way that King did but how effective has nonviolent civil disobedience been over the last 6 decades? I’d argue, not very effective at all!
For example, ask yourself, how does an abusive, violent man like Bob Kroll, who is a known racist, an Islamophobe and a homophobe rise up through police ranks in Minneapolis, unchecked and unhindered, over 3 decades and even manage to attain the office of President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis in the first place?
I was recently inadvertently made aware of Bob Kroll when a Facebook ‘friend’ referenced an article in the New York Post where Kroll was defending the 4 police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd. Kroll apparently wrote a letter to his union members attacking Floyds historical criminal record (which of course has nothing to do with the circumstances of his death) and vowing to work with the defence attorneys of the 4 officers involved in the killing to protect their jobs. He also referred to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as a terrorist group and complained about how police funds were being diverted to “community activists with an anti-police agenda.” In response to these comments the Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, tweeted that Kroll was “shockingly indifferent to his role in undermining.. trust & support” in the community.
I dug a little deeper and found another article in The Intercept newspaper that reported that Kroll had boasted that he had “been involved in three shootings” himself and then added “not one of them has bothered me” as if to imply those officers who were negatively affected were, in some way, weak. He goes on to explain how, what most people might consider an excessive use of violence, is just part of the job and that he thinks that officers who complain about all the “blood and gore and dead people” have simply just “signed up for the wrong job.”
Following Kroll’s recent comments the President of Minnesota AFL-CIO (a state federation of labor representing over 300,000 members of over 1,000 local unions throughout Minnesota), Bill McCarthy, accused Kroll of “enabling violence and brutality to grow within police ranks.” McCarthy, the Education Minnesota Union and former Minneapolis Chief of Police Janeé Harteau all called for Kroll’s resignation. Former Mayor Rybak said Kroll was “overtly racist” and “a cancer on this police department, on this city.” A coalition of 30 American Indian organizations, the Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota’s House of Representatives speaker Melissa Hortman and Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher also called on Kroll to resign. Kroll has not resigned!
I think it’s important, at this point, to provide a little background on Bob Kroll for our readers…
1989: Kroll joins the Minneapolis Police Department and works on the department’s SWAT team for 15 years
1994: Kroll is promoted to sergeant
1995: Kroll faces a federal law suit for beating, choking and kicking a 15-year-old multi-racial boy and shouting racial slurs at the child.
1996: Kroll is elected to the board of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis
2002: Kroll faces another lawsuit, along with several other officers accused of using excessive force during a ‘no-knock’ raid on an elderly couple’s residence in September 2002. The lawsuit was eventually settled for $60,000.
2004: While off-duty Kroll and another officer assault several people in northeast Minneapolis. This included punching a man and throwing him on the sidewalk causing him to hit his head on the ground. They then taunted bystanders, punched the man’s sister and kicked another person in the face. The Civilian Review Authority sustained a complaint about the incident and Kroll was suspended for 20 days.
2006: He was named vice president of the board of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.
2007: Kroll is named multiple times in a racial discrimination lawsuit brought against the city of Minneapolis by five black officers, including the current MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo. Kroll was accused of having “a history of discriminatory attitudes and conduct.” He court heard how Kroll would wear a motorcycle jacket with a white power patch on it and how he was racially discriminatory in overtime assignments. Kroll also referred to former US Rep. Keith Ellison, who is Muslim and Black and who has pushed for criminal justice reforms, as a terrorist and used a homophobic slur against a gay staffer, for which he was suspended.
2015: In May 2015, despite the fact that Kroll had accumulated 20 internal affairs complaints (including one that led to his demotion), he was elected president of the union.
2015: After the police shooting of Jamar Clark in November 2015, Kroll contradicts numerous witness statements that Clark was handcuffed at the moment of the shooting, and argues that Clark was actively resisting arrest and tried to take the weapon of one of the officers.
2016: After 4 racist officers walked off a job at a Minnesota Lynx game because they didn’t like the fact that the team were wearing jerseys with the words “Black Lives Matter” on the back, Kroll actually commended the officers and ridiculed the club.
2019: Kroll speaks at Trumps 2019 rally and promotes campaign T-Shirts with a ‘Cops for Trump’ slogan.
2020: In April 2020, in an interview with StimRadio, Kroll complained that Minneapolis were “pissing away, millions and millions of dollars to projects… Like, you know, they’re giving $15,000 a year to the transgender coordinator of the city.” He also seemed to be annoyed that the city was “giving away money left and right in lawsuits” instead of spending their money on policing and defending police officers being “sued after fatal shootings”. He then proceeds to give an example of one particular case in which a good friend of his had killed a man, Terrance Franklin, describing how he’d simply “stepped up and shot him in the head at close range.” He explains how Franklin had allegedly “shot two friends of mine, and a very good friend of mine was the one who shot and killed him in the confrontation.” Despite Kroll’s claims, Franklin was found to be unarmed when 5 officers found him hiding in a basement and unleashed a dog on him. The Franklin family’s attorneys argued successfully that the officer’s claims were absurd and contradicted by evidence. They revealed that one of the officer’s semiautomatic weapon accidentally went off, hitting two officers in the legs and that the police responded by shooting and killing Franklin in anger (although there’s also the argument that they might have wanted to save themselves some embarrassment). The family won the case and were given a $795,000 settlement.
Kroll is not unique. He’s merely in the line of fire today because George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis (on his territory and by his police officers) and because Kroll has been vocal about defending Floyd’s killers. The fact is, there are numerous police union chiefs around the country and many with similar views and track records. So, it seems then that nonviolent civil disobedience has done little to advance civil liberties or human rights for African Americans.
On the other hand, the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement have done an excellent job of keeping the issue of racism and police brutality in the media for a few weeks now and they appear to have triggered a response from prominent political and union figures who now suddenly feel the need to openly express their support, align themselves with the BLM movement and call for resignations of racist figure heads like the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, Bob Kroll.
Kroll stepping down would of course be a positive thing but it’s barely going to make a dent when you consider how this man was supported and permitted to rise up through the ranks over the last 30yrs to a position of considerable authority and influence despite his shocking record on racism, his violent nature, his blatant abuse of power or the numerous internal affairs complaints and successful lawsuits against him.
It seems to me now that if the establishment fails to recognise the significance of this moment or the extent of the task before them and if they fail to act decisively in favour of a seed change then activists will feel they have no choice but to abandon the nonviolent civil disobedience philosophy of the 1950’s and adopt a “by whatever means necessary” mantra moving forward.