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Race and Redemption: Renatta Frazier's Story

Renatta Frazier, the former Springfield, Ill. police officer whose racial discrimination lawsuit was resolved last week, discusses details of her extraordinary case with NPR’s Tavis Smiley in a special three-day series.

Frazier, now 37 and a wife and mother of five, joined the Springfield Police Department in fall 2000, at a time of high racial tension. Her new job coincided with a lawsuit filed against the city by the local branch of the NAACP to increase minority representation in the police and fire departments.

Frazier, one of 12 African American officers on a police force of about 275 officers, encountered hostility from fellow officers, which escalated to threats against her life. At the police academy, several of Frazier’s fellow cadets were dismissed after they were overheard discussing plans to drag her from the back of a truck as part of an exercise drill.

But it was another scandal -- a rape case gone awry -- that ultimately led to Frazier’s lawsuit, and resulted in the resignation of Springfield’s chief of police and several senior officials.

On Halloween night 2001, Frazier was accused of not following proper procedure while responding to a case -- an alleged rape of a white woman, the daughter of a fellow officer, by two black men. Frazier was placed under investigation and became the subject of public scorn in the small community. Under pressure from the investigation and the public, anonymous threats against her life and depression, Frazier resigned from the police in August 2002.

But one year after the accusations were made against Frazier, a reporter from the Illinois Times, Dusty Rhodes, uncovered new facts that pointed to a police force scandal. The story suggested that some officers had used the alleged rape to frame Frazier in an effort to get her off the police force. She had actually been dispatched to the scene more than an hour after the alleged incident occurred.

Frazier sued the city, but her case went unsettled for more than a year. She and her family were evicted from their apartment without notice and for a time were homeless. In 2004, with a new mayor and growing pressure from concerned citizens, pastors and elected officials, the city of Springfield reached a settlement agreement with Frazier, agreeing to pay her $829,000 in damages, plus Frazier’s attorney’s fees and other undisclosed fees.

She is currently working on a book about her experiences based on detailed journal entries she kept throughout her ordeal.

"I am fascinated -- and disturbed -- by Renatta Frazier's case," said Smiley. "Hers is a story of race, gender, politics, law enforcement, small town politics, hatred, love and homelessness. This is a complex story, and a very human story."

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