Many gathered in the Alumni Room on campus Wednesday morning to see the police chief of St. Cloud. William Blair Anderson came on campus to speak about race relations in St. Cloud, his journey that brought him where he is today and to encourage more people to join the police force.
The room was still when Anderson walked in, but the mood soon lightened when he started cracking jokes and letting people know he’s a very interactive person and anybody can interrupt him at any time.
Anderson grew up in the inner city during the 60s and 70s where there was a lot of drugs, violence and homicides. At only nine years old he witnessed a gunshot brawl right in front of his house in broad daylight. He likes to tell this story so people can get a better perspective of where he came from.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you take what’s good from that environment and leave what is not,” Anderson said.
He believes most, if not all of us, are shaped from where we come from, however, he wants people to know not to let it be the only defining thing.
He graduated high school at only 16 years old, and moved from Detroit to Minnesota to attend college. At 19 years old he was married and had two kids. Anderson and his wife were a very young interracial couple, and being an interracial couple, came with a lot of racism. He didn’t let the scrutiny stop him or define him.
He served in the military for eight years. Shortly after he was a news reporter for five years, but he always had the desire to get into law enforcement and received his master’s degree in public safety administration.
Anderson started his internship in Dakota County and faced problems the first day he arrived to work. Anderson arrived in a Cadillac that was more than 12 years old, but it was a nice car. His sergeant arrived in his Jeep Cherokee with a boat on the back.
“He looked at me and very condescendingly he asked, ‘how did you get a car like that?’ Being where I’m from and the way I was raised and the type of attitude I have, I don’t mind confrontation and I said, ‘I married a rich white woman, how about you?’”
After he told this story, everyone in the room to burst out with laughter.
Anderson explains from that day on, the small conversation set the tone from that point on and he wouldn’t be marginalized by anyone.
Anderson continued to tell his story about how he soon got promoted, and by the time he left that office the sergeant was working for him. The sergeant soon retired and said he wouldn’t work for him and called him a derogatory word. This surprised Anderson because this man had over 20 years of experience and was ranked at the highest level. He was making decisions under everybody under his protection and this was his attitude.
“There’s not a person of color under law enforcement living in Minnesota that couldn’t go on with telling you stories like this all day long.” Anderson said.
In addition to that story, Anderson wanted to see if anybody knew how many officers there are serving the state of Minnesota, and how many of those officers are people of color. There were guesses around the room but nobody didn’t quite hit the target. He said there are about 10,200 officers serving in Minnesota and about 200 are people of color. If you take out Minneapolis and St. Paul, there are less than 100 he said.
Moreover, he explained the way people look at him and judge him.
“Some people don’t like the police and some people don’t like black people. I’m both, so they have a big problem when I show up,” Anderson said.
He explains how people usually judge people of color before they even open their mouth, and there’s already a negative image people have in their head.
Furthermore, Anderson talks about his family life; how his sons might have felt like they lived in a fish bowl. Anything they did or mistakes that they made could be newsworthy, just because of who their father was. His wife felt the same way, and they divorced after 22 years of marriage. Anderson knows in his heart he was part of the problem, and he respects that.
Anderson talks about the thousands of applications thrown out every day of people trying to join the force.
“If you have theft on your record, doesn’t matter if it was five years ago that’s a crown jewel, you’re not going to make it past the background investigation” Anderson said.
He has sat down with many applicants and told them not to waste another dollar on law enforcement, because there’s no chance of some people getting in. Anderson wants the screening process to change; to see something different. He also wants more people of color to join the police force, and he’s actively trying to change that as well.
Anderson brought everyone into his life experiences and how he got to the place he’s in right now. Being the first African American officer to be promoted in Dakota County within a 150 year old span, he has faced struggles. Anderson continues to serve as the police chief of St. Cloud.