In school, you are told that there is no intent of playfulness even if a bully says to you that, “I was just teasing,” or “I was just joking.” The bully may laugh while you are simply left embarrassed. But, in adulthood, where do we draw the line with joking or bullying?
The man in the following story explored just that but on a much greater scale. Racist comments are nothing to joke around about, but when he started to hear them at work and his buddies claimed “they were just joking,” he didn’t know what to do. When the line between teasing and taunting gets blurred, all hell broke loose at this police department…
Sergeant From Michigan
For his whole life, Sergeant Cleon Brown, 47, identified as a white male with some Native American blood. Brown, from Hastings, Michigan, says his father had darker skin and black curly hair and often spoke of his heritage which could be traced back to the Blackfeet Nation.
The Blackfeet Nation is an Indian reservation and headquarters for the Siksikaitsitapi people in the United States. So when people heard the name Cleon (which was also his late father’s name), they naturally assumed he was black…
Questioning His Heritage
Brown never questioned his actual heritage until his daughter, now 18, was born. She was given a diagnosis at birth for an illness that was typically found in African Americans. Sure, the illness could affect other races, but it was very rare.
Getting More Information
Becoming increasingly curious about his background and searching for more answers to help his newborn daughter, Brown decided to take a DNA test with Ancestry.com. When Brown’s wife called him at work to tell him the tests results, he describes being relieved…
Surprisingly, Brown had zero Native American blood in him, but what he did have was 18% sub-Saharan African. When he learned the news, Brown felt proud and that “the clarity was relieving.” He happily told his colleagues at the police department, but soon, his elation turned to misery.
Jeff Pratt, the Hastings police chief, turned to Sergeant Brown and said, “Kunta.” What he was referring to was “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which is a novel that tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African, captured as an adolescent and sold into slavery in Africa. The was just the first insulting and racist remark that Brown would receive from his colleagues…
Some of the members from his department starting whispering “Black Lives Matter” to Sergeant Brown, while pumping their fists as they walked past him. Even the mayor at the time, Frank Campbell, got in on the racist teasing, telling Brown a joke in which he used the word “Negroid.”
At Christmas, the department hung stockings with names of the officers on a Christmas tree, and a black Santa Claus figurine with 18% written on its white beard, was put in Brown’s stocking. His peers were taking this too far and Brown took action filing a federal lawsuit…
He alleged that his state and federal civil-rights were violated and also cited the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. His claims were intentional infliction of emotional distress. Brown also sued the police Chief Jeff Pratt, the City Manager Jeff Mansfield, the Deputy Chief Dale Boulter, and Sergeant Kris Miller.
Insisting he was taunted made the tension between police departments and black communities even more real and relevant to Brown than he could have ever imagined. He recalled thinking at the time, “This is why we have a great divide in this nation.” His department had 13 officers at the time, all who were white, and he soon learned that blowing the whistle on his coworkers had consequences…
After Brown filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on January 4, the defendants were made aware of the complaint. Brown’s attorney, Karie Boylan says that the chief and deputy chief then “conducted highly coercive, offensive, intimidating employee interviews asking only leading questions.”
Rallying Against Him
Boylan also said the defendants “unfriended” Brown on Facebook and wouldn’t allow him to play in annual charity basketball games. She said the city manager ignored him while the police chief ignored him and was curt. The chief also asked Brown to return to patrol officer, rather than sergeant…
Affecting Brown’s Mental Health
Boylan wrote, “Based on the openly hostile, retaliatory behaviors displayed by the Defendants and tacit approval of Defendant’s conduct by many other Hastings officers, it is more likely than not, Plaintiff will not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency.” She said that the stress has greatly affected Brown’s health and that he may not be medically able to continue working.
Who Was To Blame?
The city, however, disputed the charges saying that it was Sergeant Brown who started joking about race after receiving the test results. They said that Brown fueled the banter by joking with his colleagues saying that he now understood why he “likes chicken so much,” and that “the 18 percent is all in my pants.”
He Said, She Said
Additionally, the department said that Brown told the police chief that he was not upset by the black Santa figurine in his stockings and that it was put there by a colleague that he was friendly with. “The officer who placed the Santa in Brown’s stocking then went to Brown to apologize since he heard he was upset.”
They Alleged Brown Made Rude Comments About Black People
His colleagues were claiming that Brown was the one who had a long history of making rude comments about black people and not them. Brown vehemently denied all of the city’s accusations and said that he has always firmly believed in equal treatment for all. He previously served 7 years in the U.S. Army and was 30% combat disabled…
“Decorated” Police Sergeant
Brown was hired by Hastings in 1998 and he was a “decorated” police sergeant and earned two life-saving awards. But the city stands their ground that Brown is to blame. He told his colleagues that his DNA test results through Ancestry.com revealed that he was 18% African American.
Looking Closer At Ancestry.com
But Ancestry.com’s website doesn’t include “African American” as a possible test result.” They said, “Ancestry.com’s website states that the test results do not definitively reveal where a person’s ancestor’s actually originated…only that there are shared characteristics in genes, which might or might not indicate a person’s ancestors are actually from that geographic area.” Was it possible that Brown identified in his head that he was black and that’s how it came up on the DNA test?
Learning About His History
While we’ll never really know, Sergeant Brown now examines the tensions across the country more critically. He watches plenty of YouTube videos and reads a lot of articles trying to understand why officers make particular decisions in certain instances.
We’ll Never Really Know
He’s also done a lot of personal explorations to learn more about himself. Brown has spoke a lot with his family and they collectively feel that because his father was born in 1940, he didn’t want anybody to know that he had black heritage in him. He even thinks he came up with the Blackfoot Indian thing just to sell it to people hoping that they’d believe it.