Murders, Gangs, and the Truth
Thirteen years ago today, Minneapolis Police Officer Jerry Haaf was murdered
in cold blood by gang members. The murder brought to light, however briefly, the activities of The City Inc. organization in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Police Federation website discusses
the series of events that led up to the murder, including the actions of The City Inc.
What Led Up to the Murder
Tension between the gangs and the police had been mounting. In the late 1970s the gangs arrived in Minneapolis. Instead of fighting the gang problem with good aggressive police work, the leaders of this city decided to embrace these disenfranchised youths. The city leaders were being duped by these gangsters. They in turn fed the local anti-police media and this just helped to legitimize these criminals. In the meantime, the leader of the Vice Lords, Sharif Willis, was convicted of murder but released from prison after serving only six years.
After his release, Willis was embraced by the city. His phony programs were then funded with city and donated corporate funds. Willis was able to sell a bogus program called “United for Peace” to the city. The Vice Lords were welcomed with open arms and the new sanctuary for these criminals became a place known as The City Inc. The street cops and most of the police department knew first hand what these criminals were up to, but the politicians and the media protected them. As time went on the gangsters realized that the police were still a thorn in their sides. The police would not back down or give up no matter how much intervention by city officials and the media occurred.
With city funding the Vice Lords came up with a new plan; they would use donated portable cellular phones to dispatch gang bangers to police calls. Once there they would try to incite a disturbance, then complain about police brutality. The media loved this action, as did the local self-appointed community leaders who would use this to get sympathy from the citizens, then rape the city for more money.
The day before Jerry was assassinated in cold blood, police officers working for the MTC bus company got caught in one of these bogus complaint schemes. A blind black man, who is a chronic problem for the bus drivers and the police, would not pay his bus fare. While MTC officers tried to deal with him, gangsters using their portable phones arrived at the scene and started trouble.
After the bus incident, word spread throughout the community that the Minneapolis police had beaten a blind black man on the bus. The media then played into the hysteria and things got stirred up. Members of the city council even jumped on the bandwagon. That night, the Chief of Police was at the local high school talking with residents. As the Chief addressed the crowd, the gangsters crashed the meeting and demanded to know about the bus incident. The Chief made an attempt to explain what happened. The gang punks, not wanting to hear the truth, left the school and purposely damaged several police cars that were parked outside the school. Later after leaving the meeting, AC Ford, Shannon Bowles, Amwati McKenzie and Monterey Willis went to Sharif Willis' house. While there AC Ford (second in command of the Vice Lords) said, “Let's do it.” The plan was made and the order was given: a police officer in the Pizza Shack was going to die. The murderers were driven to the Shack in two separate cars. Just before they arrived, two plain clothes robbery investigators left the Shack. The two investigators had been sitting with JERRY HAAF having coffee. McKenzie and Bowles then entered the Pizza Shack and shot Officer JERRY HAAF in the back.
It is hard to get a handle on the exact nature of The City Inc. Every couple of years, some official gets in trouble for having the temerity to raise questions about the organization, demonstrating that old saw about a gaffe being when a politician accidentally tells the truth. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has been little help in this area. Read the following excerpts from the newspaper and see if you can determine what The City Inc. is all about:
Title: Accused officer's sister squares off with The City Inc.
Author: Rosalind BentleyDavid ChanenStaff Writers
Date: November 6, 2003
``Please send me information on your funding and staffing,'' Deborah Jindra wrote. ``Where do the dollars come from and who is on your staff? I would like to know the details of some of the folks who are speaking on behalf of your organization. . . . Are Spike Moss' recent media activities supported by your organization? Is he using personal time to hold street rallies or are these activities sanctioned by your board?'' The City Inc. is a longtime north Minneapolis agency that serves youth who have dropped out of school, have had run-ins with the law or who have been involved with gangs. It also serves teen parents. Apart from schooling, counseling is provided and child care is available for the toddlers of teen mothers who are students.
Title: County-funded cleanup plan criticized on the North Side - Neighborhood activists decry process that provided money to The City Inc.
Author: Jeffrey W. PetersStaff Writer
Date: September 18, 2002
...deal was made with The City Inc., a nonprofit organization whose efforts to organize citizen patrols in the wake of the Aug. 22 disturbance upset some residents who felt police should have worked through existing neighborhood groups.
Title: Judicial elections - Reprimanded incumbent vows to do better Porter is a complicated figure: a military man who was appointed by a Republican governor, Al Quie and who has served on the board of the controversial City Inc., an inner-city social agency attacked for its links with gang members.
Author: David Peterson; Staff Writer
Date: October 23, 1996
Title: City Inc. worker sentenced on gun violation Farley Cotten, a youth worker at The City Inc. in Minneapolis who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of possessing a sawed-off shotgun,
Author: Staff Writer
Date: August 31, 1995
Title: United for Peace leader's arrest stems from spat over car parts A receipt obtained by police indicated that Willis was the owner of the two-door, older-model Mercedes. However, a police check indicated that the car is registered to The City Inc., a nonprofit youth agency where Willis works.
Author: Kevin Diaz; Staff Writer
Date: October 23, 1994
Title: The City Inc. vows to cooperate in probe of assault on woman
Author: Mark Brunswick; Staff Writer
Date: March 9, 1994
Clarence Hightower, president of the school and youth center, said he would turn over names of staff workers or others at the building to assist police in the investigation.
Title: Uncertain future - United for Peace to lose funding as connection to City Inc. ends
Author: Jim Parsons; Staff Writer
Date: November 26, 1993
Support from politicians has long since evaporated as a result of the assassination police officer Jerry Haaf that has led to convictions of three gang members. In addition, United for Peace was told recently that it will no longer be operating under The City Inc., a nonprofit agency that focuses on the problems of Minneapolis' inner-city youth and families.
Title: Derus softens his comments on gang's link with The City Inc.
Author: Patricia Lopez Baden; Staff Writer
Date: October 14, 1993
Responding to an audience question, Derus told a crowd of about 180 listeners that city money "did go to The City Inc., and The City Inc. is part of the Vice Lords organization, and that Sharif Willis and the people that run it are the people who got that money."
That statement took away the breath of the crowd and even elicited a few hisses from those who had gathered at Mayflower Congregational Church in south Minneapolis to hear the League of Women Voters forum. Yesterday, Derus said that he "did not intend to say The City Inc. was part of the Vice Lords." He did, however, insist that The City Inc. "is the link group between the gangs and the political structure. There are close affiliations between The City Inc. and gangs. Members of The City Inc. are part of the Vice Lords."
The City Inc. is a nonprofit organization with an annual budget of $3.5 million that provides alternative high schools, day care, parenting classes and job programs for inner-city youths.
It also is an organization that has displayed a flair for controversy by openly cultivating relationships with gang members and serving as the midwife to United for Peace, a gang coalition that catapulted to prominence last year with its vow to end gang violence. The coalition's leader is Sharif Willis, leader of the local Vice Lords gang. Despite a high-profile beginning and early praise from police officials for quelling a near-riot last summer, United for Peace flamed out when Vice Lord gang members were arrested in the shooting death of Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf last September.
Title: Precursor to a night of violence - A scuffle over a blind man's bus fare sparks tensionsAuthor: Chris Ison; Patricia Lopez Baden; Staff WritersDate: September 26, 1992
Police arrested Robert M. Cook, 44, a staff member of The City Inc., a multi-service agency that caters to at-risk youths and their families, on suspicion of throwing the punch. Neither Cook nor officials at The City returned phone calls yesterday.
Title: Wellstone backs gang peace effortAuthor: Randy Furst; Staff WriterDate: September 1, 1992 Wellstone made the pledge in a meeting with United for Peace, an organization of rival gang leaders who have come to oppose violence among gangs, and with leaders of The City Inc., an inner-city Minneapolis community agency that helped bring about the gang peace effort. Title: Beating victims receive support - City Inc., others offer their helpAuthor: Jill Hodges; Staff WriterDate: November 8, 1991
Among those offering support to the family were representatives of The City Inc., a youth outreach center in north Minneapolis.
Title: Leaders of The City Inc. charge article was unfair
Author: Lou Gelfand; Staff Writer
Date: May 12, 1991
The City Inc. operates alternative schools and reaches out to troubled youths and families
Title: The City, Inc. - building trust on society's front line
Author: Leonard Inskip; Staff Writer
Date: December 19, 1990
When members of a youth gang wanted to dispute the initial police version of Tycel Nelson's death, they went to a community agency they trust - for some, perhaps the only one. It's called the City, Inc.
The City reaches out to troubled youths and families, those whom other agencies often can't reach.
* * *
With a $2.7 million budget funded by the United Way, government, foundations and corporations, the City has "something that can and does work in the inner city," Nelson says. That something is to work with gang members, not to promote or coddle gangs, but to change members' negative behaviors.
Title: Old `Way' building reopens to serve troubled youths
Author: Wendy S. Tai; Staff Writer
Date: September 24, 1990
The City, a south Minneapolis youth agency, took ownership of the Way building last summer.
* * *
Several of the Way's former employees now work for the City, including Smith, who was the Way's recreation coordinator, and Spike Moss, who was its executive director. Moss is now director of the City's At-Risk Youth Services, the gang-outreach program, and will work at both the north center and the south one, at 1545 E. Lake St., Nelson said.
* * *
Born of the racial disturbances of the 1960s, the Way Opportunities Unlimited Inc. symbolized black activism
on the North Side. Its name was chosen because the agency was to provide "a way out," opportunities for black youths who did not fit in more traditional programs.
* * *
Yet as the Way and the City Inc. walk a fine line between befriending gang members and appeasing funding groups, some social service experts say the two agencies and their unorthodox methods more than ever need to be sought out and not shunted aside as Minneapolis' growing social problems defy orthodox solutions
Title: Minneapolis / Deputy chief offers apology for comments about The City youth center
Author: Staff Writer
Date: February 27, 1988
Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Bob Lutz apologized Friday to the City Inc. for disparaging remarks he made publicly about the youth center in the wake of a shooting there this week.
Title: Tough year leaves City, Inc. stronger
Author: Terry CollinsStaff Writer
Date: June 5, 2004
The City, Inc. was founded in the mid-1960s as a youth club in a south Minneapolis church. It moved to a building on Lake Street in 1967. Its alternative school, believed to be among the first in Minnesota, opened in 1970, a group home for girls came a year later, and social-service programs were added in 1980.
A second location was added in north Minneapolis in the mid-1980s after The Way, a well-known community organization once run by Moss, ceased operations. The City, Inc. took over the site and installed its alternative high school curriculum.
Me: They have a Mercedes registered to the non-profit?