Minneapolis police deputy demoted over comment

Published 6:45 am Wednesday, October 21, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS  — A high-ranking deputy to the Minneapolis’ police chief said he was demoted after he was quoted in a newspaper story referring to white officers as “white boys,” which led to a backlash within the department.

Art Knight, who is Black and who was Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s chief of staff, said Arradondo took the action over the weekend after Knight was quoted in a story that ran in Sunday’s Star Tribune  about law enforcement efforts to retain and recruit candidates of color.

While criticizing the department’s efforts to add diversity, Knight said that if the force continues on the same track to recruit, train and promote racial minorities and women then “you’re just going to get the same old white boys.”

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There was swift backlash to Knight’s comments within the department, with some fellow officers saying on social media that the term he used was unnecessarily divisive.

Knight, who was Arrandondo’s chief of staff, said he will return to his civil service rank of lieutenant, the newspaper reported. Representatives of the department did not immediately respond to a phone message left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The department has come under increasing pressure to change its culture since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in May. Floyd, a Black man who was in handcuffs and face-down, died after a white officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd pleaded for air.

Knight told the Star Tribune he was “disappointed” by his demotion. He said he stood by his contention that the department wasn’t doing enough to attract women and minorities, but said he could’ve said it differently.

“If I offended anybody with the verbiage of ‘boys,’ then I’m sorry,” he said. “The message was about the lack of diversity, so it’s just frustrating to me — it’s like certain people are looking for an out, and not to make it about a lack of diversity.”

He said he planned on taking some personal time to decide on his future.

Arradondo sent out a department-wide email Sunday that said the matter was being handled internally.

“Today a Star Tribune article quoted a member of my administration making a statement that used words that were hurtful, unacceptable and does not reflect the attitudes and values of our department,” the email said. “I want to apologize to all those who were offended by that statement.”

Although referring to adult males of any race as “boys” is inaccurate, referring to Black males of any age and in any context as boys can be perceived as demeaning and calls to mind historical language used by some to address Black men.

City Council member Jeremiah Ellison said Tuesday that he has a “lot of respect” for Knight and his willingness to speak “bluntly” about issues facing the department. He said he couldn’t comment on the demotion because he hadn’t had a chance to speak with Arradondo or Knight. However, he disagreed with the idea that Knight’s comments were racially motivated.

“The term ‘white boys’ is not a slur, it’s just not — you can read it into it and you can say well maybe it has a connotation, but show me a history of where it was used to oppress a group of people,” Ellison, who is Black, told the Star Tribune. “Quite frankly you can say it’s distasteful or whatever, but at the end of the day it’s not slur, so I don’t think it should be treated as such.