Michigan police officer Cleon Brown is suing his chief and the city after a chain of events that began when he took a genetic test through Ancestry.com in December and was surprised to learn he could trace 18 percent of his DNA to regions in Africa.
Brown was also surprised by how his fellow officers in the Hastings Police Department reacted to the news.
He said the police chief called him “Kunte,” after the character in Alex Haley’s novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” while other officers whispered “Black lives matter” when they walked past, according to MLive.com.
Even the mayor, who has since retired, made cracks, according to Brown’s attorney, Karie Boylan, who has filed a lawsuit on Brown’s behalf.
“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 a racial slur, she told CBS Detroit.
Brown said the Christmas tree in the police department lobby was decorated with Santa figurines named after each officer on the force. Brown’s Santa was black with “18 percent” written on the beard, according to WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.
Brown has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Hastings, the town’s police chief, its deputy chief, a sergeant and the city manager.
“These are law enforcement officers,” Boylan told the station. “These are people who are supposed to understand cultural sensitivities.”
Boylan said Brown has been ostracized and subjected to a hostile working environment. He is suing for $500,000.
“I don’t see that any officer that has been retaliating against him is going to come to Cleon’s aid,” she told WOOD-TV.
She also wants Hastings to provide better racial sensitivity training for officers.
The City of Hastings said Brown is the one who kept bringing up his ancestry and made inappropriate jokes about it, according to WOOD-TV.
The city acknowledged the “Black Santa” incident in a statement but said that the officer responsible apologized to Brown.
The statement said Brown told Hastings Police Chief Jeff Pratt that he “was not upset and that he was proud of his African heritage.” The city also claimed the chief told the other officers that no other jokes about Brown’s heritage would be tolerated.