Hastings, Michigan Sergeant Cleon Brown, a White police officer, alleges that when he found out that he was 18 percent Black, his colleagues started taunting him with racist jokes. He’s now suing the Hastings Police Department for racial discrimination.
CNN reports that in 2016, Brown took the Ancestry.com genetic test. Brown told a Michigan publication WILX, that he’s always been curious about his ethnic background.
“There’s always been questions reference my dad. He had darker skin and black curly hair,” Brown told WLIX. “My oldest daughter was born with a medical issue and the specialist thought there was African heritage in our blood line.”
He “proudly told the other Hastings employees of the test and result,” asserts Brown in his lawsuit. What followed, the lawsuit alleges were a series of escalating interactions with Hastings PD and city personnel. Sergeant Brown alleges that his police chief called him “Kunta” – a character in Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots: The Saga of American Family.” His lawsuit describes a hostile work environment where he questioned his safety stating:
“Based on the openly hostile, retaliatory behaviors displayed by the defendants…it is more likely than not, Plaintiff will not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency.”
Cops would walk by him and whisper “black lives matter” while pumping their fists, Brown alleges. Otherwise, he got the silent treatment. “They were real quiet to me and in police work, you have to communicate,” says Brown. At Christmas, he found a black Santa figurine marked “18%” in his precinct Christmas stocking. Brown told CNN affiliate WDIV, “It was almost like a disgraced type of reaction that I got from them like, ‘Why are you proud of this type of thing?’” Brown’s lawyer describes an interaction between Brown and the Hastings Mayor:
“There was an instance where my client was talking to the mayor, and the mayor — upon learning that my client was 18 percent African-American — proceeded to tell him a racist joke using the (N word).”
Brown is seeking half a million dollars in financial damages in a lawsuit. Brown says his lawsuit is not all about money. “Absolutely not, from the beginning we said this was about them making a hostile work environment.” He also wants his supervisors relieved from duty.
The City of Hastings, a predominately white municipality (97% white), rebuts the two-decade veteran officer’s claims through a statement released today. According to the City, the Santa was “tan” not black and the officer that placed the Santa in Brown’s stocking, later apologized. Ancestry.com’s website doesn’t include “African-American” as a possible test result, says the city. The city also wrote that Brown does not appear to be African-American and therefore is not a member of a “protected class” under civil rights laws. The City asserts that the laws are “not designed to protect those who can demonstrate some trace amount of a particular race or geographic origin.” Further, according to the City, Brown initiated the racial jokes and comments.
The City is wrong. Racial discrimination can happen even if someone doesn’t appear to be a member of a protected class. Race discrimination can involve treating someone unfavorably because the person is associated with a person of a certain race. Here, Brown is being associated with his African forebears and his colleagues allegedly made his work environment a hostile one as a result. Also, Brown will undoubtedly deny that he initiated the racist jokes which leaves that issue to be decided by a credibility determination.
All this fuss over just being 18 percent Black. Those of us with the other 82% are not impressed.