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Analysis finds minorities arrested at a higher rate than whites in Mpls.
Monday, June 08 2015
 
Written by Brandt Williams, MPR News,
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analysis_finds_minorities_arrested_at_higher_rate_than_whites_in_mpls-web.jpgAn analysis released May 28 by the American Civil Liberties Union gives the most detailed picture yet of racial disparities in the treatment of low-level offenders by Minneapolis police.

Those arrested for non-felony offenses in Minneapolis are far more likely to be people of color than to be white.

The ACLU analyzed arrest data collected over nearly three years. Most of the arrests for low-level offenses occurred during traffic stops. Following FBI practice, the ACLU counts as an arrest encounters where people are merely stopped, ticketed and released.

Minneapolis police officers made nearly 100,000 non-felony arrests between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2014. African-Americans and Native Americans were arrested at rates nearly nine times higher than the rate for whites.

African-Americans make up less than 19 percent of the city's population, and Native Americans just 2 percent. The arrest numbers don't include separate categories for Asians and Hispanics.

The disparity didn't come as a surprise to Henry Jackson, 55, as he stood across the street from Target Field with a handful of tickets.

Buying and selling tickets is legal, but Jackson, who's African-American, has been arrested for trespassing in the neighborhood three times since 2012.

The latest arrest happened outside nearby Target Center in January, as he was selling tickets for a Timberwolves game. He had stepped inside Target Center to warm his hands, he said, when two police officers cited and released him.

Jackson said white ticket sellers could do the same thing "all day long" without being stopped, "but it seems like they got us singled out."

Jackson was convicted, ordered to pay a $50 fine and given a stayed sentence of 90 days in the workhouse on the condition that he stay out of Target Center for a year. Now he can't enter the venue, even as a paying customer.

An MPR News analysis of the same data the ACLU examined found more than half the people arrested for trespassing were black.

The ACLU report comes at a time of intense national discussion about race, police and inequality.

Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Chuck Samuelson sees several reasons for the disparities in Minneapolis arrests. He blamed bias among police and among people who call the police when they see someone they think looks suspicious.

Samuelson said the disparities also result from policies that focus enforcement in neighborhoods with large minority populations. The result, he said, is "just shameful."

"We're better than this," he said. "We need to be better than this. And there's no reason why we can't be better than this."

Samuelson said the new study is much more detailed than an analysis the ACLU released last fall. That report found Minneapolis had the country's third-highest disparity in marijuana arrest rates for African-Americans and whites.

The ACLU study found black children made up the majority of juvenile arrests. And 88 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 12 arrested for violating curfew were children of color.

The new report comes on the heels of two studies of police data released recently by the city of Minneapolis. One found that†officers rarely record the race of people they detain but don't arrest. The other found that†whites were more likely to call police†to report black people suspected of committing non-felony crimes like loitering.

Most people arrested were not booked and jailed. Instead, they were given citations and ordered to go to court.

On a recent Monday morning, dozens of people sat quietly in one courtroom. A dozen or so waited outside in the lobby. Nearly all of them were people of color.

"Usually they're in court for an entire morning," said Melissa Fraser, assistant Hennepin County public defender.

Many people choose to plead guilty to the offenses, Fraser said. They've already had to take time off work or get child care while they wait. Fighting a charge, she said, will bring more days of waiting in courtrooms.

Pleading guilty may bring a faster resolution, but it can mean trouble down the road.

"If you have a disorderly conduct conviction, that can create problems when you want to rent an apartment, or obviously for jobs," she said.

And the need to get a job, explained Police Chief Janeť Harteau, can lead to trouble as well.

Between 2010 and 2014, she said, one in six drivers stopped by Minneapolis police lacked a driver's license. One reason, she said, is that behind-the-wheel testing sites are all outside the city and can be hard for poor city residents to get to.

"And they need a driver's license to get a job," she said. "They can't get a job because they can't get there. Or they get stopped because of a traffic violation on the way to their job without a driver's license. Now they've got a misdemeanor on their arrest record."

Such traffic-related offenses accounted for most of the arrests. The most common was driving with a revoked driver's license. MPR News found that nearly three-quarters of people arrested for driving with a revoked license were African-American.

The ACLU study also addressed the relationship between policing and poverty. The data show police arrested homeless people more than 6,000 times during the 33 month period.

Harteau acknowledged that police presence is higher in areas with more violent crime. And those neighborhoods tend to have large populations of poor people of color.

"And so it's not surprising to me that you're going to have lower level offenses at a higher rate" in those areas, she said.

Harteau said her department is making strides toward reducing the tensions between communities of color and the police. She recently asked for a federal audit of her department's disciplinary system.

Policy changes are also in the works. The City Council's Public Safety Committee has voted to repeal laws against spitting on the sidewalk and lurking, laws that critics say have been used to unfairly target people of color.

Samuelson, the Minnesota ACLU executive director, said pressure from activists, as well as cooperation from elected and police leaders, can all help eliminate racial disparities.

"But we've got to be really willing to try," he said. "And I have a sense that maybe, just maybe, that's starting."

The City Council will vote on the proposal to repeal laws against lurking and spitting next week.

 

PHOTO: Minneapolis police Sgt. Jeff Carter stopped a suspicious vehicle Thursday night, March 12, 2015, in north Minneapolis. (Photo by Jennifer Simonson | MPR News file)

 

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard on MPR's statewide radio network or online.

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