Sgt. Cleon Brown with the Hastings, Michigan police department always believed he was white with Native American ancestors. That is, until his daughter was diagnosed with an illness typically found in people of African American descent. His search for answers led him to take a DNA test from Ancestry.com. Sure enough, he is 18% sub-Saharan African, according to the test results.
Brown — a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War before becoming a police officer — claims that after he revealed the test results, station Chief Jeff Pratt called him “Kunta,” nodding to the Gambian-turned-American-slave in the famed Alex Haley novel and miniseries “Roots.”
In January 2017, Brown filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to local news station Fox 17, Brown says the taunting has prevented him from performing his duties at work.
He alleged that employees across the department started whispering “black lives matter” while pumping their fists as they walked past him. The lawsuit claims the stressful work environment has also created health complications for Brown, who is seeking $500,000 in damages.
The city and the department deny any wrongdoing, suggesting that Brown is the one who began joking about race, according to The New York Times. Brown says absolutely not: “I just never thought it would be in Hastings, saying, like, racist comments to me. All the years I’ve been there we never joked about race.”
According to the Times, “of the 7,350 residents counted in Hastings, a Grand Rapids suburb, in the 2010 census, only 40 were black.” Brown told the paper that all of the city’s 13 police officers are “white — or at least they appear to be.”