Racism is rampant at a police department in Michigan, but it’s not clear if an officer, who considers himself white, experienced discrimination without also making fun of Black people himself.
Sgt. Cleon Brown shared with members of the Hastings, Mich., police department what he learned of his ancestry after taking a DNA test, which listed his African ancestry at 18 percent. He said taunts by officers followed and the Police Chief Jeff Pratt referred to him as “Kunta,” the main character in Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots.”
Brown called the taunting occurring since 2016 “straight-up racism.” So, he sued the city of Hastings originally asking for $500,000, but will receive a $65,000 settlement, his attorney said.
As a comparison, the amount of $65,000 is a whole lot more than $4 — what a federal court jury in St. Lucie County, Fla., awarded the family of Gregory Hill Jr., in June. Hill, a Black man, was killed in his own garage by police officers.
Prior to Brown’s the settlement, officers claimed he made jokes himself about being part-Black, according to the city.
“Other officers have stated that after Brown first told them about the test results, they never approached him about it again.
“Instead, it was Brown who specifically went to other officers, raised the topic, joked about it, and engaged in typical racial stereotypes. Clearly, Sgt. Brown welcomed his interaction with other officers on this topic.”
Hastings city manager Jeff Mansfield said the lawsuit did not have merit, but a settlement was the best option.
“The city did not believe the lawsuit had merit. But when comparing the settlement to the cost and disruptive effect of defending the case, it was in the city’s best interest to resolve the case on the terms in the mediated settlement agreement,” Mansfield said in a statement to WWMT.
The mocking by officers, Pratt and Hastings Mayor Frank Campbell began in 2016, said Brown, a 19-year-veteran of the police department. He first filed an EEO complaint in 2017, but claimed things only got worse after that.
He said colleagues were whispering “Black Lives Matter,” while pumping their fists in the air, according to WDIV. And, during Christmastime, Brown said, someone placed a Black Santa head in his Christmas stocking, with “18%” written on its beard.
As a part of the settlement, Brown will be forced to resign at the end of October, when his time on paid suspension runs out.