Why does this keep happening?

Former area man discussed experience with police violence and Minneapolis riots

Clifford Tyson dressed in his Sir Redd Dogg attire to deliver groceries and supplies to residents of the Minneapolis neighborhood in which he grew up. (Submitted photo)


It wasn’t his neck that the police officer’s knee was on. He wasn’t the one who lost his life and he didn’t personally know George Floyd. But when Clifford Tyson heard about and saw what happened, Pain is what he felt.

“Just so much pain,” Tyson said. “Why does this keep on happening? What has got to happen for people to recognize that this is real. Cops are killing and have been killing black people for over 400 years.”

Living in Arcadia for roughly a decade, Tyson was one of the roughly 180 African Americans — according to the 2019 Census Bureau — living in Trempealeau County before relocating to Winona, Minn. But Minneapolis is his home. That’s where he grew up, it’s where he suffered through incidents of police brutality. When he saw what happened to Floyd on Memorial Day, he had to try to fight for change.

“That could’ve been me,” Tyson said. “I was there the Wednesday before.”

Tyson said he had been sitting at home on Tuesday evening before telling his fiancé, Theresa Sargeant, that he had to go back to his old neighborhood. He had to be a part of the protest, the fight for justice.

For Tyson, that fight is personal.  

“I got marks on my body,” Tyson said.

Tyson told the story of how when he was 22 years old he got drugged in a bar. After drinking two beers, he felt the need to go to sleep so he climbed in his car. He was then had an abrupt and violent awakening.

“The cops pulled me out of the car and they beat the $&!% out of me for nothing,” Tyson said. “They didn’t ask me what I was doing, didn’t ask me if I was all right, they just beat the $&!% out of me.”

When asked for a reasoning, Tyson said the officers claimed he had attacked one of them.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t his first negative experience. He said police officers used to harass him and his friends when he was a teenager.

“If there’s a group of us, it’s a game,” Tyson said. “They’d grab us and take us down to the train tracks and beat the $&!% out of us.”

That’s why Tyson moved away from Minneapolis, saying he didn’t want his children to have to have that fear.

Tyson had met Sargeant and decided to relocate to Arcadia to live with her. His daughter, Courtney, is an Arcadia High School graduate.

At first, Tyson said he didn’t have any issues with police in Arcadia, but still noticed racism on a daily basis.

“It can be as simple as passing someone a cart even before coronavirus, I’d get certain looks,” Tyson said. “People would try to stay as far away; I could see the clenched purses.”

He said everybody in Arcadia knew who he was quickly. 

“Why? Not because I was a new person, but because I was a black new person,” Tyson said. “They wanted to make sure I wasn’t a criminal.”

Tyson said he worked hard to ingrain himself into the community in order to help avoid conflict with citizens or the police, saying that, if he hadn’t he “probably would’ve been arrested and in jail.”

The attitude of police officers in Arcadia changed toward Tyson when his kids graduated high school, he said. “That’s when they really started messing with me.”

Tyson said his stepdaughter, also had issues with the police.

“It’s to the point where we don’t even want to drive through Arcadia,” he said. “That’s the thing, police put records on black people.”

Tyson managed to stay clear of legal trouble while in Trempealeau County. The only citation he received was for failing to have proof of insurance in his vehicle, a $10 fine.

But, he knows many aren’t so lucky, especially in cities like his hometown.

Tyson wanted to make his voice heard, he wanted to see what was happening in his community and he wanted to document it. Numerous videos appear on Tyson’s Facebook page, videos he encourages everyone to watch. Many contain mature language with chants of &#@$ the police. But all of it was real and a first hand look at the pain that poured onto the streets of Minneapolis.

“I wanted people to see my perspective, what’s really going on,” Tyson said. “Wanted people to see a different side of the story, what’s happening in my neighborhood what has been happening.”

He only took part in peaceful protests, saying he left whatever area he was in as soon as he felt that it was going to get dangerous. On one night, he said he had to run from members of the military who were using force to clear the streets. His knowledge of the area helped him escape without getting injured or arrested for peacefully protesting.

The looting, Tyson said, broke his heart. “I saw the place I grew up burned,” he said.

But it also made him feel the need to record the events he was seeing.

“It wasn’t people from that community that were destroying the community,” Tyson said. “White supremacists were walking around with AK-47s, wearing all black.”

He said one white supremacist group had explosives and used them on an area where protesters had gathered water, food and supplies.

Tyson wasn’t alone. He brought his daughters with for some of the protests because he thought it was important for them to see.

“Kids can be that change,” Tyson said. “They can’t make a change if they live far away and not hands-on witnessing it visually. That’s going to stick more than reading and seeing it on a Facebook page. They wanted us to forget that racism is still here.”

For change to happen, Tyson said hiring practices within law enforcement agencies need to be overhauled. He said police departments should focus on hiring officers from inner-city neighborhoods to patrol those areas. 

More importantly, he said, will be love.

“We need to start loving one another,” Tyson said. “We’re going through a pandemic, worrying about coronavirus killing us all, all of the human race, but black brothers got to worry about police officers killing us as well.”

With a population that is 96.1 percent white, Tyson realizes most Trempealeau County residents can’t understand what he has been through. For those who want to help, however, he just asked that they open their minds. 

“Get to know people,” Tyson said. “Different is good. Go up and talk to that young brother with dreadlocks, don’t be afraid of him.”

He encouraged citizens of rural areas to visit big cities and “be surprised by how many people will tell you to have a good day and God bless you. We’re human. That’s it.”

More urgently, he noted the lack of food, water and other supplied for areas that were destroyed by the riots. He said the area he’s from was considered a place of poverty before the riots and now there is a more urgent need for water, diapers and medication. He went through and made donations himself last week and said he’s going to continue doing so.

With his Minnepolis roots, Tyson is also a Minnesota Vikings super fan and member of the Vikings World Order. When he attends games, he does so in a “Clifford the Big Red Dog” costume and goes by the nickname “Sir Redd Dogg.” He put that costume on while delivering groceries to those in need.

“That’s what I was there for,” he said. “To make people smile and bring cheer.”

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