Al Ditty – Working-Class Hero
by Ciaran, member of the Twin Cities General Defense Committee
When Jamar Clark was executed by Minneapolis police on Plymouth Ave in North Minneapolis back in November 2015 – a powerful movement erupted in response, and its reverberations are still being felt today. Many, many people made great sacrifices in the hours, days, and weeks after the young unarmed African-American truck driver was shot in the head by the police. Community protesters took the streets and the highways, built an occupation encampment outside the 4th Precinct, engaged in militant action – and raised the social and political costs for the police’s killing. People missed work and school, built shelter and community, took arrests and abuse, tear gas and “non-lethal” rounds. Five young protesters were shot and wounded by white supremacists threatening the occupation.
Until last week’s City Pages article by Cory Zurowski the GDC and most people in the local movement against police terror were unaware of the great sacrifice Minneapolis sanitation worker All Ditty made in service of his co-workers, the protest encampment outside the 4th Precinct, and the North Minneapolis community. Al Ditty was a white man who grew up in in a union home in Brooklyn Center, MN – his father was a pipefitter, his mother took care of him and three siblings. Ditty graduated from Anoka High School, was a big Minnesota sports fan, read the Bible daily, and helped look after his niece and nephews. For over 30 years Ditty worked for the City of Minneapolis sanitation department, he was a member of Laborers Local 363 – even serving as Union President, before taking a promotion to foreman in 2015. It was in this capacity that his life would intersect forever with Jamar Clark’s and the Black working-class community of North Minneapolis.
As City Pages reports, “In the wake of the demonstration, higher-ups were determined not to allow a long-term encampment, like those occurring during the Occupy protests a few years earlier. City workers began hearing rumblings about dismantling the camp.” The plan soon formalized to clear the protest occupation at the 4th Precinct, using a “Street Cleanup Strike Team”. First riot-police would attack the encampment, arresting or chasing out those seeking Justice for Jamar, quickly followed by firefighters spraying down the campfires and the rest of the occupation infrastructure, and finally a wave of sanitation workers to scoop up the tents, chairs, picket signs and banners, food and supplies and whatever else was left behind.
Ditty opposed this plan – he objected to Minneapolis sanitation workers participating. He feared for their safety – especially after watching videos posted by armed white supremacists threatening the protesters, but he also understood many sanitation workers connection to the community. “Al was concerned about us because half of us live up there in north Minneapolis, and they know all those people, and it would have been an all-out war if they’d gone in there,” one worker told City Pages.
With Ditty and other sanitation workers’ objections being brushed off by the City, he took a simple and important action. The night before the weekend of the scheduled raid he forwarded the cops’ plans to KARE 11 News – the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities. The leak was powerful, it exposed the police plan and exacerbated tensions within the city’s ruling establishment about how to deal with this popular and defiant movement.
While we don’t know all of Ditty’s motives or how much he personally sympathized with the 4th Precinct protesters – the facts show his actions helped delay the expulsion of the protest occupation for almost two weeks. Those days included some of the most important events of the occupation – the mass march and the determined defense of the camp after the armed attack by 4chan white supremacists, the community Thanksgiving celebration, and the only mass meetings ever held (in which community members rejected the non-profit’s attempts to disarm and demoralize the occupation).
What we also didn’t know, and what Ditty didn’t know at the time was that KARE 11 forwarded his email AND his email address on to the Minneapolis Police. The MPD’s media spokesperson is a former KARE 11 reporter. KARE 11 revealed Al Ditty’s identity to the institution he was exposing. Totally unprincipled and unethical, but very representative of the hand-in-glove relationship between corporate media and law enforcement.
Ditty’s leak helped knock the MPD’s plan for repression back, and the cops never forgot it. City Pages reports that “forces inside city government were conspiring to uncloak him. What had started as a few pissed-off cops had gained traction behind closed doors.” Two months later they removed him from the job and placed him under “investigation”. Ditty developed extreme anxiety, depression and insomnia – his job, responsibilities and the friendships that had been central parts of his life for three decades were suddenly taken away. After letting Ditty suffer for a month the City’s sanitation bosses called him in to fire him. They lied and said Ditty never discussed his concerns with his superiors – he had. They said he’d “violated the ethical aspirations” of the city’s employee code – as if these immoral bureaucrats had any ethics.
On March 12th 2016, Allan J. Ditty, son, brother, uncle, sanitation worker, and whistle-blower committed suicide by hanging. Over 350 people attended his funeral at Glen Haven Chapel on W. Broadway – many of them city sanitation workers, who commandeered a city truck “with the City of Lakes’ script and sailboat logo for the memorial”.
The General Defense Committee does not forget brother Ditty’s life, his righteous choice back on November 20th, 2015, or his sacrifice. We honor him.
Al Ditty took his own life, but we know who is responsible: Mayor Hodges, Police Chief Harteau, and the bosses who signed his termination Steve Kotke and Lisa Cerney. We don’t forget that either. Neither do we forget the interesting timeline in which the planned police raid for November 21st or 22nd 2015 is cancelled after Al Ditty’s leak – and a fascist attack takes place against the protesters the very next Monday night, November 23nd. We cannot rule out collusion between the police and the fascists.
And we never forget Jamar Clark, a young Black worker, taken down by racist police but lifted up by a community – a community and a class RISING.
AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL!
WE NEVER SLEEP, WE NEVER FORGET!