So much of the violence we experience in America is mediated, composed through the prism of culture, critique, justification to the point of turning people into talking points, objects to be moved around a chessboard. But like so many names that have become familiar over the last few years, Philando Castile was not a chess piece. He was, of course, a human being with family and friends who loved him dearly. There are more people than I expected, who I know in real life, who have been directly effected by this tragedy. People who have to find the words and the courage to tell their children that someone they cared for, counted on, trusted is no longer among the living. People I know who had to brace themselves for the reaction after they told their child, “Mr. Phil was murdered.” If we can allow the repetition of the process of degradation and murder in America for the sake of controlling blackness, then we must force ourselves towards the same style of repetition in the reverse, telling ourselves and others, one time and one time more, that Philando Castile was a human being. Philando Castile was not an object. Philando Castile was not put on this earth to be made an example of.
Not long ago an anonymous source provided me a transcript of an interrogation which Police Federation President Bob Kroll conducted with a 14 year old boy – notably, African-American – when Lt.Kroll was then a Sergeant.
While public information, like so many city documents, this transcript has been buried under the weight of bureaucracy for some twenty years now. In it, Lt. Kroll is revealed to be exactly the type of person many of us are well aware he is; bullying, insensitive, callous, cruel, vindictive… Within it, along with so much more, Lt. Kroll goes so far as to tell the young boy in front of him that he will one day “be a statistic” and killed by a police officer.
A few weeks back, in collaboration with Uncivilized Books, and with the assistance of eighteen comics illustrators, we gathered together at Beyond Repair for an afternoon of drawing wherein we used this transcript – word for word without a single alteration – as the script to illustrate the narrative played out between this young man and Lt. Kroll. In due time we printed 300 copies of this comic with the intent to strategically distribute it around Hennepin County.
On Thursday morning I dropped off copies for each City Council Member, as well as the Mayor. Soon copies will move further afield to Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith, state senators and rep’s, up and down the line.
In the short amount of time that the entire City Council has had editions of the comic I have been impressed and gratified by the response I have received. The energetic and proactive responses of Council Members Jacob Frey, Elizabeth Glidden, Cameron Gordon, Lisa Bender, and Alondra Canohave shown that a good amount of our elected officials in Minneapolis understand how the actions, conduct, and character of Lt. Kroll derails any substantive civic discourse around police accountability and public safety, and how that any long-reaching, thoughtful dialogue around these issues cannot take place when the loudest voice in the room displays the dismissive, aggressive, counter-productive tendencies so evident in the actions and mannerisms of Bob Kroll.
Yesterday I met with a local journalist whose focus is the police beat in the Twin Cities. Pleasantly enthusiastic, he nonetheless wondered, “why this story and why now?” What is the purpose of devoting page space to a twenty year old incident? My reaction was, because it isn’t an old story at all. What the comic illustrates is how we continuously live within and build off of past actions within the present tense.
The narrative told within the comic is common. All too common. It’s played out each and every day in our police precincts and courtrooms, and there are mile high stacks of similar transcripts which speak towards the same callous, and arguably proactive indifference which was directed towards this young person.
The story within the comic we produced plays out not long after the Clinton crime bill takes effect in 1996. What we’ve seen in those twenty years is three strikes and mandatory minimum laws enacted, in parallel to the excessive funding of prisons (both public and private) and budgetary increases for prosecutors the country-wide. Hand in hand with these “tough on crime” funding booms we’ve experienced the defunding of public defenders, treatment and advocacy programs, education, and an astonishing array of social services.
Kroll’s “I don’t care if you did it or not” attitude within the transcript plays directly into this entire ecosystem to the degree in which that indifference becomes procedural. Kroll plays a role. At a time when Hennepin and Ramsey Counties are set to jointly allocate $18 million dollars to fund 165 new juvenile jail cells, Kroll fills the role of processor within that system. A cog, he greases the wheels within the machine so that those beds get filled, primarily with young black and brown bodies, a means to ensure and justify those callous expenditures and the continuing rhetoric that so aggressively, and profitably, devalues human life within it.
We all know that Kroll is a clown. A blustering, blowhard of a figure put into place to distract, disorient, and misinform so that nothing, absolutely nothing of substance gets done. We watch him yelling, stumbling around the civic social landscape, pantomiming white supremacy and patriarchy to the bleak amusement of many. So, yeah, a comic as a method to discuss his role within the prison / judicial industrial complex makes sense, right? It allows us to see Kroll, and more importantly, the role he plays, for what it is.
But as we all know, clown’s aren’t really funny. For some people clown’s are even deeply scary. And when real people, not those playing a role, or those masquerading as human(e), find their lives on the line this sideshow that Kroll serves as a leading character within turns from farce to drama on a knife’s edge. Lives are ruined; silenced, shut off to the questions and qualities of life that concern us all.
It’s not simply the tenor of dialogue that Kroll disrupts, it’s his ability to shut down and silence other voices within the social space wherein the dialogue plays out that matters. The cacophony surrounding his clownishness disrupts the growth or productive complication of our shared narrative called democratic voice. It stifles the narratives ability to flourish and reflect the many different experiences lived in Minneapolis. At its most benign, his antics make the narrative super repetitive and outright boring.
It’s time for Act Two and yet the script for this second act within our civic conversation has yet to be written. In imagining the narrative about to unfold before us, and the characters who might take center stage, it’s time for the clown to exit, stage right.
Stop into Beyond Repair to get your own copy of Sgt. Kroll Goes to the Office. It’s free, of course. After reading it, please share your thoughts. Unless we talk about the new roles, the new characters and imagined vistas available to us, the script will not change and the play will remain the same, going on as it has for the last twenty years. To the delight of few, the boredom of many, and the silencing of far too many.
We write this script together.
In the coming weeks we’ll begin a series of on-going conversations and programs in collaboration with Hennipen County Public Defenders and independent criminal defense lawyers regard individuals rights specific to the social landscape that is the 9th Ward of South Minneapolis. Simply put, how are you and your neighbors being screwed with and where at?
While, admittedly, nothing can protect you from a cop on an aggression kick, knowing your rights and how they can protect you when in proximity to the police is an asset of use to us all, especially for our neighbors most targeted by the police here in the Ward.
With this said, in the planning stages of this groups formation, hearing from neighbors about specific events, tendencies, or repeated actions by individual members of the 3rd Precinct is helpful.
Any suggestions for subject matter on programs specifically relating to the neighborhood would be great to know. Please feel free to