In March 2015, when Minneapolis police stopped four Somali-American teenagers, Officer Roderic Weber made genocidal taunts about the 1993 U.S. military raid in Somalia. Weber said, “Do you remember what happened in Black Hawk Down when we killed a bunch of your folk? I’m proud of that.” He added that his fellow cops felt the same, then said, “We didn’t finish the job over there, ’cause if we had finished the job, you guys wouldn’t be over here right now.”, When one of the detained teens said Weber was a racist, he had responded, “Yep, and I’m proud of it.”
Five other cops, including a supervisor, were involved in this stop, and police microphones had been recording. Politicians, especially Democrats, argue that police racism comes from particular individuals — “a few rotten apples” — and not from the police as a whole, but this is a lie. Racism and brutality occur because the police exist to protect private property, serve capitalism, and maintain an unequal “order” through racist violence. This is perpetuated by all levels of authorities who supervise the police.
When supposedly progressive politicians promise training will stop police racism, they are trying to placate protesters, not to end repression. And when they suggest that police self-recording can fix the problem, they are contradicting substantial evidence. Their own administrations have often hidden important evidence of crimes by police against people of color. While they claim to be on the side of the Black Lives Matter movement, these same Democratic elected officials authorized tear gas, clubbings, rubber bullets, and mass arrests by the police to stop protests over the summer. The 2015 Minneapolis case shows in excruciating detail that city authorities — including those in completely Democratic Party run cities — do not intend to combat systemic racism. They only want to manage and demobilize popular reaction against it that would threaten their system.
You might be interested in: The Fight to Abolish the Police Is the Fight to Abolish Capitalism
Officer Weber was confident that his fellow officers agreed with the racism and intimidation he carried out, or at least felt it was normal when policing young Black men. When one of the targeted teens said he was, “glad we heard that,” about Weber’s Black Hawk Down statement to understand Weber’s hate for Somalis, he retorted that his fellow cops were “proud of it too.” His partner, Dan Diedrich, chimed in, “Damn straight we heard it.”
This racist exchange was recorded on a police microphone. Yet Minneapolis took a year to fire Weber from the police department and did not bring criminal charges against him for making death threats. The city took no action against Diedrich or any of the other cops — they all continued patrolling. Even after firing Weber, the city covered up the recording for nearly six years. Weber’s full actions were only exposed this month when the Sahan Journal, a local immigrant-focused newspaper, published details of the police recordings and internal investigation records, which they had to sue the city to obtain.
False Promises and Reform from Above
After the police murder of George Floyd, a mass protest led by young Black activists confronted Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and demanded the defunding and abolition of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). Before refusing to abolish the department, the mayor made a speech claiming that he wanted to transform “how this department operates.” Instead of dismantling or weakening the MPD, or even ordering cops not to assault protesters, he offered personal promises of reform from above.
Frey said, “I’ve been coming to grips with my own brokenness in this situation, my own failures, my own shortcomings, and I know there needs to be deep-seated, structural reform….A systemic racist system needs to be revamped.” Officials like Frey have told people that the police can be de-racist-ified without defunding them, without disarming them, and without firing more than a few cops.
At the same time, Frey was covering up the evidence of the 2015 incident — just as he covered up video of the first cop approaching George Floyd pointing his gun at him. When politicians withhold this type of evidence, it is proof that they are against the Black Lives Matter movement. While they pay lip service to protesters’ demands, they are unwilling to actually combat police racism. Instead, they aim to pacify the public, co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement, and preserve the existing racist system.
Racist Taunting in Plain View
Police racism during the 2015 incident was not entirely hidden. Hamza Jeylani, then 17 years old, recorded police with his cellphone and posted the video online, drawing public attention at the time. Weber was arresting Jeylani as he stood, motionless, at the door of the teenagers’ car, while a second cop handcuffed another member of the group fifteen feet behind the car, and a police supervisor told a third person inside the vehicle to keep his hands where she could see them. As the supervisor stood just five feet away, Weber told Jeylani, “Plain and simple — if you fuck with me, I’m gonna break your leg before you even get a chance to run. I don’t screw around.” As Jeylani objected that he was not running, Weber said, “I’m just giving you a heads up. I’m trying to be Officer Friendly right now.”
Jeylani asked why he was being arrested, and Weber replied, “Because I feel like arresting you.” The supervisor on the other side of the car ignored Weber’s threat and later claimed that she did not hear it, even though Diedrich, who was farther away at the time, later admitted he had heard what Weber said.
Weber and Diedrich had arrived at a church parking lot to take possession of a suspicious vehicle after a 911 caller said that three people dropped off a red Dodge Charger with a bullet hole and then left in a blue Toyota. The four Somali teens allegedly drove their blue Toyota into the parking lot while the police were there, and then pulled out and left.
Weber and Diedrich pulled the car over and went to question the occupants. As Weber approached the passenger side, his own dash camera shows he drew his pistol before he even reached the door of the car. Two seconds after reaching the passenger door and looking through the window at the four teenagers — all of whom were unarmed — Weber raised his hand to point his gun at the head of the nearest passenger. After a few seconds, he lowered and holstered his weapon. This was a 24-year veteran MPD cop who pointed a gun at Black youth with no provocation. Yet the city government ignored this action in its “investigation.”
You might be interested in: Their Violence and Ours
When he put Jeylani in the back of his squad car, Weber saw that he had been recording with his phone and ordered him to hand it over. As Jeylani began to comply, Weber shouted, “Don’t you fucking try to hide it from me!” Neither Weber nor Diedrich was wearing a microphone even though the MPD had an official policy requiring at least one partner to wear one. Partway into the arrest, the dash camera in Weber and Diedrich’s squad car turned off. When a city investigator later asked Diedrich if he had turned it off, he responded, “I can’t remember. I’m not saying that I didn’t.”
45 minutes after detaining the four teens, the six cops had produced no evidence to arrest anyone and released them. None of the other five cops, including the supervisor, reported Weber’s actions. Jeylani posted his cellphone video of Weber threatening to break his leg to Twitter the next day. Two weeks later, a local TV reporter asked the MPD about that video. Only after this did the MPD Internal Affairs Unit begin looking into Weber’s actions. The cellphone video was later publicized by media, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, and the ACLU. Shortly thereafter, another of the detained teens, Faysal Mohamed, then 17, filed a complaint with the Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) stating that Weber had threatened and racially targeted the group.
Officer Fired After “Slow-Moving and Secretive Process”
The Sahan Journal concludes that after severe abuse in this case, Officer Weber, “was ultimately held accountable and fired, but only after a slow-moving and secretive process that failed to address community concerns.” In fact, the MPD and city government took an entire month to suspend Weber — with pay — despite having recordings of his threats and racist statements. They took four months after the traffic stop to formally question him. Weber was fired from the MPD, after two closed-door committee meetings, ten months after he threatened the four teenagers.
The Minneapolis police union continued to oppose Weber’s firing even though it saw all the records of his threats and racist insults. The cops’ elected leader, Bob Kroll, said publicly that Weber’s firing was unwarranted, and the police union filed a grievance to appeal it. During that appeal, the police association argued that Weber should remain a cop because he suffered PTSD from witnessing the murder of a child three years earlier and because he had nine department commendations (he also had 23 civil rights complaints). The police union also argued that multiple cops who used racial slurs had not been fired. The appeal arbitrator upheld Weber’s termination — 16 months after the stop.
You might be interested in: Cop “Unions”: Their Real Function and Role
Weber’s firing was reported in the media, but when the Sahan Journal contacted Jeylani this month, he did not know whether Weber was still on the force, as the city never involved him in the investigation process or informed him of its outcome.
When the Sahan Journal revealed that the city had hidden these video and audio recordings for over five years, Mayor Frey released a statement which mentioned no wrongdoing by the city government: “The behavior [of Officer Weber] is abhorrent and has no place in our department. The decision to terminate was the right one, and it was rightly upheld.”
MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo refused to respond to the Sahan Journal’s revelations. Arradondo has previously said that the police force needs “true reform” to transform a “broken” law enforcement system to provide “good policing.” As an African-American chief (who once successfully sued the force for job discrimination against Black cops), Arradondo is used by the city to argue that the MPD is not an inherently racist institution. Shortly prior to this incident, he was the head of the MPD Internal Affairs Unit that secretly “investigated” Weber’s actions.
Phillipe Cunningham, the city council member who heads the police oversight committee, told the Sahan Journal, “This is the first I’m hearing this,” about Weber’s Black Hawk Down comments. He did not publicly question why the police department and the OPCR kept this information secret even from him.
Minneapolis City Council Retreats from Pledge to “End” the MPD
In the heat of the George Floyd protests, a majority of nine “progressive” Democrats on the City Council told the public that they would “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department,” because, “decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions.” The City Council verbally resolved “to create a transformative new model for cultivating safety.”
However, rather than taking direct action to abolish, defund, disarm, or even shrink the MPD, city council liberals moved to support November ballot referenda that would have officially replaced the the MPD with an unexplained new “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention” and removed a provision in the city constitution which mandates a minimum of 730 cops (compared to the current 1070).
In an absurdly anti-democratic process, the city government then gave control over whether voters could vote on those proposals to a separate commission of unelected officials. The “City Charter Commission” is a collection of 15 people hand-picked by the chief judge on the local state court who legally oversee city government procedures.
In late summer, this unelected commission blocked the ballot initiatives to permit cutting the police force and to replace the MPD with the so-called “Community Safety” agency. Some Commissioners said openly that they were against actions to reduce the police force. Commissioner Dan Cohen said the ballot measures would cause “crime [to] soar, property values on our homes [to] fall [and residents to] flee the city.” He warned that if voters took any action against the police they would cause a “giant self-inflicted wound.” Commission chairman Barry Clegg said he did not think the requirement for at least 730 cops was necessary, but he was against allowing voters to vote on it because, “it’s become code for ‘defund the police.’”
This process shows that police racism and violence are tools for the ruling class to keep society “orderly” and defend their property. Regardless of whether they pretend to care and pay lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement, the bourgeoisie are indifferent to police crimes against people of color. This is why they refuse to take serious action against guilty cops and why they falsely insist that police protect people from crime. They are not talking about people like Hamza Jeylani when they say police protect people.
As the unelected City Charter Commission blocked even small steps to challenge the MPD, the progressive Democratic Council members retreated into pathetically promising not to do what they previously pledged: “end” the police department. Rather than speak to the public, the Black Lives Matter movement, and workers or challenge the legitimacy of commissioners hand-picked by a single judge interfering in what voters or the elected city council can do, the City Council progressives sent the Charter Commission a letter ineffectively pleading with them not to block the referendum to replace the MPD. They promised to “include law enforcement as part of a multifaceted approach to public safety,” and insisted, “The Minneapolis City Council is not asking you to put police abolition on the ballot, nor does the amendment propose this. We are asking you to let Minneapolis vote on a new framework for public safety that aligns with the State of Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety.” According to these “progressives”, all that is needed to stop racist police repression is for an unelected commission to permit voters to make limited legal changes so that Democratic elected officials can align police operation with what the state bureaucracy says on paper about the purpose of “community” policing.
Racism Is at the Core of Policing — Reform Is Not Enough
What happened to the four Somali teenagers and the city’s response show the superficiality of official police reform. Weber would never have been fired if Jeylani had not filmed him. No investigation began until a local TV station asked the MPD about Jeylani’s video. None of the other cops were punished for not intervening or reporting Weber. The city did not pursue criminal charges against Weber, and it concealed public records of his crimes. The state board of police licensing states that Weber’s license to be a cop expired in 2018, meaning that it was not revoked when he was fired.
As recently as 2018, a cop decorated a Christmas tree in a police station lobby with items mocking Black people — packaging from a Popeye’s fried chicken restaurant, malt liquor cans, Newport cigarettes, and snack brands associated with Black school children — together with police tape, showing whom he believes the MPD’s main targets are. The city fired him, then rehired him on appeal. That station was the 4th Precinct, where thousands of people had marched in protest of the 2015 police murder of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old Black man.
Out of all MPD searches during routine traffic stops, 78 percent of people searched are Black and 12 percent are white, while the city’s population is 19 percent Black and 64 percent white. When they search Black people, they make an arrest 26 percent of the time versus 41 percent of traffic searches of whites, indicating a higher rate of frivolous searches. Meanwhile, 92 percent of MPD cops live outside of the city they patrol. Racism is at the very core of the police force.
Promises of liberal elected officials to listen to the Black Lives Matter movement have proven to be false. They are intended to evade the demand to dismantle the police and jail all cops proven guilty of crimes.
This hypocrisy is reproduced at the national level. During the Democratic Convention, Joe Biden argued, “Most cops are good.” After the election, Barack Obama told people not to say “Defund the Police,” arguing that this demand “los[es] a big audience” and makes it harder to win reforms through negotiation within the structures of government.
The kid-glove handling of racist crimes by cops like Roderic Weber is further evidence that stopping anti-Black oppression requires an independent mass movement able to win millions of people, kick cop “unions” out of the labor movement, lead strikes, and completely abolish the police and the prison system. And as Weber’s gleeful support for U.S. militarism shows, the anti-racist movement inside the United States must also oppose racism and imperialism abroad.
Concretely, it would be a great step forward for large numbers of people to question this Minneapolis cover-up and demand the immediate firing of Officer Diedrich, who said “Damn straight we heard” Weber’s racist statements and presumably turned off his dash cam, the police supervisor who denied hearing a violent threat five feet away, and Officer John Archer, who literally told city investigators who asked him what he thought when he heard Weber’s racist comments that he laughed them off. And when the next wave of the Black Lives Matter movement constitutes itself, people should fight for the resignation of Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey — and hundreds of other mayors guilty of presiding over racist violence.