Black in Minneapolis


MINNEAPOLIS-Do you hang a car air freshener on your rear view mirror? Have you ever sipped a beer in a park or jaywalked? Do any of those things in Minneapolis, if you are African American, and you risk arrest at a rate dwarfing the arrest rates of whites on identical charges.

Take drinking alcohol in public, for example. Minneapolis police arrest Blacks at a ratio of 11 to 1 for whites. A recent study by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which examined the racial breakdown of all persons arrested and jailed in the past five years, showed the following Black to white arrest ratios: prostitution, 10 to 1; trespassing, 19 to 1; lurking, 27 to 1; begging, 11 to 1. The list goes on.

Being a middle-aged man driving an expensive car with your granddaughter doesn’t protect you from this treatment either, as Kan White, executive director of Minneapolis’s Civil Rights Department, discovered last July.

White was stopped in a local park by six white cops and made to sprawl on his car in front of his six-year-old granddaughter while the police asked him three times who owned the BMW 470 he had been driving.

White identified himself and showed his business card, but it made no difference to the police, one of whom commented, “Ain’t never heard of you.” White was then told he could go-no charge, no explanation for the stop and, of course, no apology.

Democratic Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, an African American and a former parole officer, commented, “I absolutely believe racial profiling does occur in our city. I think we need to understand that every officer that pulls somebody over because of racial profiling isn’t a racist”.

Mayor Sayles Belton is well known in this city for such statements, but her police force, at least Inspector Tim Dolan, is more to the point when he says, “Tell you what, I wouldn’t want to be a minority driving through a problem area of Minneapolis with a headlight out because you’re going to be stopped.”

The Star Tribune reported on a police exercise that cops call “jump outs,” in which police go to sites of suspected drug activity, jump out of their squad cars, and grab anyone who runs away. On one recent night, 12 people, all Black, were rounded up in “jump outs,” and eight were later let go, with no charges filed against them-not even a ticket.

Were their rights violated? Not according to Sergeant Clifford Moore, who said, “We inconvenienced their Friday night. We’re allowed to do that.”

Numerous people came forward to tell their stories to the newspaper, including a firefighter who has been stopped at least 10 times in the last five or six years, most recently for “making a left turn too fast.” A 36-year-old social services worker was locked up for an entire night and the whole next day because police charged he squealed his tires at a stoplight and bumped the curb while parking downtown.

Police stopped a juvenile corrections officer three times in three miles on his way home from work.

The newspaper study also revealed that although Blacks are arrested at massively higher rates than whites, whites are convicted and sentenced at a higher rate than Blacks. 

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