MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working security at a Minnesota Lynx game walked off the job Saturday night in a protest.
The police union says the unidentified officers were upset about the WNBA Lynx players wearing “Black Lives Matter” pre-game T-shirts, and concerned about comments made by Lynx players in a pre-game press conference.
The warm-up jerseys named two black men shot last week by police, including Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop.
The back of the T-shirts also showed a Dallas police badge in honor of the five slain officers there, and the words “Black Lives Matter.”
Before the game, Lynx players said the jerseys were meant to honor and mourn the deaths, and to call for change.
“What is happening today is not new,” said Rebekkah Brunson, who recounted a childhood incident in which police confronted her and her friends with guns drawn.
“We have decided it is important to us to take a stand and raise our voices,” Brunson said. “Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem.”
The Minneapolis Police Federation says four off-duty cops working security at the game were offended, and asked team officials for the players to remove the T-shirts.
The team refused, and the police officers walked off the job before the game began.
“It’s just a T-shirt, but our officers have been frustrated,” said Lt. Bob Kroll, the police federation president.
Kroll called the Lynx player protest “anti-police” and said Lynx players are buying into a “false narrative” about police misconduct.
“They’re wading into waters they shouldn’t be in to begin with,” he said. “They are professional athletes. Stick with playing ball. People go there to watch the basketball game.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee’ Harteau said she does not condone the officers’ actions, even though she understands their frustration.
“Although these officers were working on behalf of the Lynx, when wearing a Minneapolis Police uniform I expect all officers to adhere to our core values and to honor their oath of office,” Harteau said. “Walking off the job and defaulting on their contractual obligation to provide a service to the Lynx does not conform to the expectations held by the public for the uniform these officers wear.”
And on her Facebook page, the Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called the police union comments “jackass remarks.”
“Bob Kroll’s remarks about the Lynx are jackass remarks,” she said. “Let me be clear” labor leadership inherently does not speak on behalf of management. Bob Kroll sure as hell doesn’t speak for me about the Lynx or about anything else.”
The Lynx players protest came during a week of racial unrest across the nation, including Minnesota.
“We’re highlighting a long-time problem of racial profiling and unjust violence against blacks in our country,” said Maya Moore.
The Minnesota Lynx issued a written statement saying it respected the rights of police officers to disagree, and that the safety of the players and the game was never in jeopardy.
Here’s the team’s written statement:
“The Lynx organization was made aware about the concerns of the off duty Minneapolis police officers who had signed up to work Saturday night’s game vs. Dallas. While our players message mourned the loss of life due to last week’s shootings, we respect the right of those individual officers to express their own beliefs in their own way. At no time was the safety of our game in question as Target Center staffs extra personnel for each and every game. The Lynx and the entire WNBA have been saddened by the recent shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and St. Paul. We continue to urge a constructive discussion about the issues raised by these tragedies.”