Black Chief: My Heart Jumps When I See a Cop Car Behind Me
One of Minnesota’s only Black police chiefs has a lot to say about the state of American policing following Derek Chauvin’s conviction.
Minnesota employs roughly 11,000 police officers. Fewer than 250 are Black—or barely 2 percent in a state where 7 percent of the people are Black. Of the 417 law enforcement agencies and departments in the state, only four police chiefs are Black—less than 1 percent.
One of them is Blair Anderson, the chief in St. Cloud, Minnesota, who acknowledges the disparities and his own fear of unknown police officers but also says that he has seen white officers serve communities of color with compassion. It frustrates him, he says through tears as we speak just after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts for the murder of George Floyd, that “they get lumped in with the dumbass who does something so abhorrent that we all get painted with that same broad brush. I see them every day, and they feel like shit. They're like, ‘I didn't kill anybody.’ All I’ve done was try to serve.” He adds, “We are aware there are bad people in our profession that don’t need to be there. But the vast majority of people out here doing this job... are doing it the right way, for the right reasons.”
Still, Anderson says, there’s a lot of work to be done to restore the trust that many have lost in the uniform. As residents reeled from the trauma and grief of the Chauvin trial, for example, Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year-old man, was killed by yet another white police officer in Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles from where Chauvin stood trial. A familiar outcry followed in the state where Black men and women like Philando Castile, Martha Donald, Jamar Clark, and Mark Henderson were all killed at the hands of police. Since 2000, there have been 208 police-involved deaths in Minnesota; 26 percent of victims have been Black. “I tell my officers that this uniform is a symbol of a lot of things to different people,” Anderson says. “It's a symbol of service. It's a symbol of sacrifice. But to some people, it's a symbol of oppression and brutality and violence. I'm not disavowing myself of our country's history.” In the interview below, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, the chief discusses the Chauvin verdict, rising racial tensions in Minnesota, and the future of policing.