Discussions about the racism of law enforcement have taken a national stage. On a local level, though, conversations about cultural sensitivity and policing remain important. In Hastings, Michigan, the story of a sergeant who learned of his black heritage late in life and then faced racist harassment from his colleagues may just be a microcosm of bigger problems.
The New York Times investigated the situation of Cleon Brown, who had assumed he was part Native American. Brown became more interested in his bloodlines after his daughter was diagnosed at birth for an illness that is more typically found in African-Americans. A DNA test from Ancestry.com showed Brown to have 18% of his genes coming from sub-Saharan Africa. He had no Native American in him at all.
Brown was proud of this discovery and told his colleagues, who met the revelation with ire. He was allegedly called "Kunta" on the first day after his announcement.
Brown has filed a lawsuit against the city which documents the abuse he increasingly faced. He's looking for $500,000 from the department to make up for the taunting. The claim says that Brown was met with jeering "Black Lives Matter" chants from colleagues and nasty jokes that used the word "negroid" from the mayor. For Christmas, he received a black Santa with "18%" written on it. The city is disputing the accusations, saying both that Brown himself started the joke and that he has a long history of making racist jokes himself.
“This is why we have a great divide in this nation,” he said, denying all of the responses to his allegations. “I just never thought it would be in Hastings, saying, like, racist comments to me. All the years I’ve been there we never joked about race.”
“What are they doing when they’re on the road making decisions as law enforcement officers,” asked Brown's lawyer, Karie Boylan. “What factors are guiding their decisions?”
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