Remembering a trailblazing St. Paul cop

Jim Mann.jpegLongtime St. Paul police officer James “Jimmy” Mann died Saturday.

He was 88, and he’d been retired for more than 30 years. But he’s remembered for helping break the color barrier in the modern St. Paul Department, albeit sometimes with more force than some thought necessary.

“You either really liked Jimmy Mann, or you really hated Jimmy Mann,” remembered former police chief Bill Finney, who joined the force in 1971. Mann had been there since 1957.

A native of Tennessee, he was a WWII vet who came to Minnesota in the late 40s to attend mortuary school. He joined the close-knit black community in the old Rondo neighborhood. With his fellow black officer James Griffin — the cop for whom the current police headquarters is named for — they were half of the department’s black officers at one point.

In a history of black officers, Griffin called Mann “one of the most controversial officers in the department.” He lobbied hard to get more black cops on the force and change the department’s relations with the black community.

Former chief Bill Finney says it was an era of de facto, if not de jure, segregation in St. Paul, and that Mann struggled long and hard to change that.

“It was very, very difficult to be a black officer back then,” remembers his widow, Anna Marie Ettel. “They weren’t trusted by the white cops, and they weren’t trusted by the black community.”

“He was the kind of person who cared passionately about justice and injustice,” she said. “He hadn’t been a cop for 40 years, and there were still people who came up and talked to him, who said ‘I was a kid and got caught shoplifting, you took me home instead of turning me in. And I had to face my mom, which was probably worse.'”

Mann was a patrolman his entire 20 year career, sparring with police administration regularly about the diversity and character of his own department. Finney said Mann helped found the National Black Police Association and was a founding officer of the department’s community relations office.

He may have been most famous, though, for talking his way into a hostage standoff following a bank robbery in 1971. He managed to free a grandmother and her 18-month-old granddaughter, recover the money and the guns used in the incident. Mann got a Medal of Valor for the effort — but not until 2009.

Mann was at various times a candidate for the school board, the city council and the state legislature. He was on the boards of neighborhood and community groups and was a respected cook, well known for the barbecue ribs he sold at the Farmer’s Market and other places, friends said.

He was also a jazz aficionado, a fan of Langston Hughes and e.e. cummings. He even brought a master’s degree in sociology to his work as a patrol cop.

Mann died at his home in St. Paul of congestive heart failure. He left behind six children, 20 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

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