News Day: Gang Strike Force ended / Somali Minnesotan homecoming? / Lighter than news / Obama NAACP speech

© BJ - Fotolia.com

© BJ - Fotolia.com

The gang that couldn’t police straight Latest word on the Metro Gang Strike Force – it’s over. State Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion has officially abolished the Metro Gang Strike Force. The 12-year operation, backed by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher from beginning to end, sounded more like a gang than a police operation in the description of its officers by 11-year Metro Gang Strike Force chief (and Fletcher protegee) Ron Ryan, quoted in the Pioneer Press:

“Some mope, he’s a dope dealer, he’s never had a job and he’s got this whole array of stuff that’s really neat, that’s better than the stuff the copper’s got in his house,” Ryan told the state investigator who interviewed him. “And they have this thing that they don’t deserve it, so we’re going to take it. We’re going to forfeit it, you know. That’s just the mentality of the coppers. So you almost have to tell ’em, ‘Quit taking stuff.’ ”

In the Star Tribune story about the strike force, a victim described being beaten by Strike Force officers who said he was selling drugs.

On April 4, 2007, Strike Force officers threw him to the ground as he was leaving his wife’s aunt’s house in south Minneapolis, then handcuffed him and took him inside the house.

There, officers handcuffed other family members, Garcia said, and took him upstairs where they struck him several times. He said he was told by an officer who spoke Spanish that an informant had reported someone in a brown sweatshirt selling drugs, and he was wearing a brown shirt.

The officers asked him where the drugs were, Garcia said. Then they took him to the basement where they threw him on a bed and “they started hitting me more, asking where the drugs were,” Garcia said.

“One of the police officers told me to open my mouth, and the other put the gun in my mouth.” The gun was then cocked, he said. “I started to cry and I thought I was going to die.”

No drugs were found, no arrest was made – and no apology ever issued. The FBI is investigating this case, among others.

After the state auditor’s investigation became public this year, computer security systems and cameras at the Strike Force headquarters were disabled and Strike Force members entered the offices and shredded documents.

The Star Tribune report included statements from prosecutors, other law enforcement officials and the State Auditor’s office saying that the work of the Gang Strike Force produced relatively few prosecutions. Earlier in the month, State Auditor James Nobles told law enforcement officials that, “We got the impression a lot of activity was not involved in prosecution of people,” but rather that the activity of the Strike force “was more about making life difficult for people and taking their stuff.”

Can Somali Minnesotans come home again? “If you’ve learned the truth about these exploitative organizations like Shabaab, who are so dangerous, then abandon them and then help tell the truth about what these groups are really all about,” said Congressmember Keith Ellison told MPR. MPR reports that the U.S. government is trying to find a way to bring home any of the Somali Minnesotans who may have become disienchanted with al-Shabab. Four of the teens have been killed in Somalia, including at least one who was allegedly trying to return home. Two who left al-Shabaab in 2007 are now in jail in Minnesota, charged with “providing material support to terrorism and conspiring to kill people abroad.”

Leaving al-Shabaab and Somalia is difficult — there is no U.S. diplomatic presence in Somalia and the capital city of Mogadishu is under siege.

MN Job Watch Stock Yards Meat Packing Co. in South St. Paul is planning a consolidation that could cost 75 jobs, and transfer other workers to a plant in Plymouth, according to MPR.

Green Corps jobs are attracting a lot of attention in Minnesota, despite modest pay ($11,400 for eleven months plus some educational benefits). MPR reports that the program, an offshoot of AmeriCorps, will be run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Even before the formal announcement, the agency received more than 300 inquiries about the 22 positions, whose work will focus on “living green” outreach, school waste prevention, local food systems, urban forestry, and local government energy conservation.

Applications are due by August 3.

Arbitration firm settles case Less than a week after MN Attorney General Lori Swanson sued the National Arbitration Forum for deceiving consumers into thinking it was a neutral arbitrator in debt collection, while actually being allied with creditors, the company agreed to stop taking credit card and consumer collections cases. According to the Star Tribune:

Employees at the firm told investigators that they were instructed not to pass along evidence that would benefit consumers in arbitration and to use an extremely small print font on such documents, Swanson said….

The city of San Francisco is in litigation with Forum, and other state attorney generals have contacted Swanson about the case. Although Swanson maintains that Forum deceived consumers and acted unethically, her office cannot pursue criminal charges, a process that can only be executed at the county or federal level.

The company did not admit guilt.

Lighter than news A 100-pound cupcake arrived at the Mall of America Saturday, reports the Star Tribune, which also reported that the cupcake has 131,000 calories and stands two feet high and three feet wide. The MOA plans to beat its previous world’s-largest record of a 61-pound cupcake, and the promotion is somehow tied to Sponge Bob Square Pants — now that’s a summer news story!

And in more summer food news, Starbucks is abandoning its’ brand and adding wine and beer at a Seattle store, which will now be called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. News reports across the country (1,660 in a Sunday afternoon Google search) are breathlessly following the developments, as Starbucks experiments with three non-brand-named stores. Is it a trend? Will it be profitable? Will it spread? Stay tuned.

World/National News

Obama NAACP speech President Barack Obama spoke to the NAACP national convention last week, sounding as much like a preacher as a president, and calling on the past for inspiration for the present:

If three civil rights workers in Mississippi – black and white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred – could lay down their lives in freedom’s cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time. We can fix our schools, heal our sick, and rescue our youth from violence and despair.

It’s a call to action that doesn’t stop — and includes the reminder that:

From the beginning, Du Bois understood how change would come – just as King and all the civil rights giants did later. They understood that unjust laws needed to be overturned; that legislation needed to be passed; and that Presidents needed to be pressured into action. [Emphasis added]

Click on the video below and watch or listen.

Crime dropping across nation Criminologists are puzzled about the resasons, but crime is dropping across the nation, reports the Washington Post, proving false the commonly held belief that crime goes up when the economy is bad. And, while there’s no explanation for why crime is down, police would be happy to take the credit for it. As Washington DC police chief Cathy Lanier says: “Everybody wants to beat us up when it goes up, so we’ll take credit for it when it goes down.”

Crime is down in the Twin Cities, too. Minneapolis ended the first half of the year with only six murders, compared to 18 for the first half of 2008. St. Paul had seven murders in the first half of 2009.

Russia’s culture of impunity Another Russian human rights advocate has been assassinated, reports BBC. It’s difficult to keep track of all the places in the world where human rights advocates are in danger, but important to try to pay attention. This time, Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was murdered in her native Chechnya. BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes writes:

My guess is that it will never be proved who ordered Natalia Estemirova’s killing. In Russia such murders are rarely solved.

Look at the case of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead outside her Moscow apartment three years ago.

Or of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, gunned down in broad daylight in Moscow this January.

War Reports

Iraq The three Minnesota National Guards who were killed in Iraq were killed by a rocket attack by Shiite militia, reports AP. The three were identified as Spc. Carlos Wilcox, 27, of Cottage Grove; Spc. Daniel Drevnick, 22, of Woodbury; and Wertish, 20, of Olivia. The three were killed in Basra in southern Iraq. Over the weekend, a bombing targeted Sunni leader Sheik Naeim Salih al-Halbos in Fallujah (west of Baghdad), wounding him and killing his son and two bodyguards. Another bombing at a sports field in Fallujah killed two children and wounded eight others.

Somali Al-Shabab rebels say they will try two French security advisers under Sharia law on charges of spying and “conspiracy against Islam,” , reports BBC. In another incident, ten gunmen from Somalia kidnapped three foreign aid workers from the Action Against Hunger group in Kenya and took them back across the border into Somalia.

Afghanistan Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, 27, of Eagan, and another U.S. airman died Friday when their F-15E Strike Eagle crashed near Ghazni Province. Military spokesman said they were not sure what caused the crash, reports the Pioneer Press, but that “we know the enemy didn’t do it.”

A soldier from Idaho who was captured last week by the Taliban appeared in a video, which was released by the Taliban, reports AP.

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