Police and Law Enforcement

White Michigan officer accuses police department of discrimination after learning he's part black

A white police officer in Michigan is claiming he was subjected to racial taunts including being called “Kunta” by his colleagues after a genetic test revealed he was part black.

Sgt. Cleon Brown of the Hastings Police Department said his father always claimed he was part Native American but when his daughter, now 18, was diagnosed at birth with an illness he said typically was found in African-Americans, he was suspicious.

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Last fall, Brown, 47, took a genetic test through Ancestry.com, which to his surprise revealed he was 18 percent black and 0 percent Native American.

“I was shocked, but I’m very proud,” he told Fox 2 Detroit. “I’m shocked because I thought I was Native American, and it answered a whole bunch of my questions.”

When he "proudly" shared the results to his colleagues, he said they were welcoming, but eventually the congratulations turned into racial jeers.

“I just never thought it would be in Hastings, saying, like, racist comments to me," he told The New York Times. "All the years I’ve been there we never joked about race.”

Last month, Brown filed a lawsuit against the police department and its chief, Jeff Pratt, who he alleges called him “Kunta” – in reference to an African slave from the novel and TV miniseries “Roots.”

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“And it made me so mad,” Brown said. “I remember saying to the chief, ‘I cannot believe you just called me that.’”

He is seeking at least $500,000 in his lawsuit.

Brown is a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War and has worked in law enforcement for 20 years.

In the lawsuit, Brown charges some members of the department of “whispering ‘Black Lives Matter’ while pumping their fists as they walked” past him. He said last December, a fellow sergeant put a black Santa figurine that had “18%” written on its beard into his Christmas stocking at the station.

“Not a good thing for the public to see,” Brown told Fox 2 Detroit.

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In a lengthy statement, the city disputed the charges saying it was Brown who started joking about race after receiving the test results.

“In fact, Sgt. Brown joked about it in racially derogatory ways such as suggesting the he now knows why he ‘likes chicken so much;’ ‘the 18% is all in my pants;’ and other similarly inappropriate and derogatory comments and stereotypes,” the city said.

In regards to the figurine, the city acknowledged that it was left, but said Brown told Pratt that he was not upset and that he “was proud of his African heritage.”

However, Brown insists that he was taunted and denied the city’s accusations.

He told the New York Times that he always tried to take a race-neutral approach to policing.

“It wouldn’t even cross my mind to say something like” that the city claims, he told Fox 2 Detroit. “It’s their attempt to shift blame. What else can they do at this point?”

Brown said the experience has given him a new appreciation for the effects of racism.

“I feel my eyes are being opened now to that,” he told the Times.