Contributed by: Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN
The Minneapolis Police Department recently released data that confirms what we have known and noted for a very long time: the MPD arrests a disproportionate number of African Americans. The data they released on low level offenses demonstrates the large disparities in arrest rates for several minor offenses including curfew, loitering, lurking, disorderly conduct and marijuana possession. This data is even more evidence that there are serious racial disparity problems at the MPD that need to be addressed.
From what I have seen and heard through my work, by and large people of color (and many in the white community) do not have good relationships with the police. They do not feel a good connection with the police, nor do they trust the police. While the MPD has taken some good first steps, like releasing this data, they need to spend some serious time working on building better connections with the communities that are over policed, like North Minneapolis, and downtown Minneapolis.
The police are trained to be hyper-aggressive. Many of them do not live in the communities they serve and are too often alienated from the people they are sworn to serve and protect. Seen as an occupying force by members of the community, the police arrest hundreds of people every year for low level behavior that isn't a genuine threat to public safety.
Criminalizing common, human behavior doesn't make the communities safer, it just reinforces entrenched feelings of a power dynamic that is out of whack. Armed with a veritable arsenal of laws, the police can arrest just about anybody they want. Hanging out on a corner should not be a crime, nor should it be a reason for a police officer to search you or question you. However, we have heard from countless black men that they are routinely arrested and charged with crimes like lurking or loitering for doing just that.
Despite the over policing of nearly half of the Minneapolis population, not enough has been done to rectify the problem. All Minnesotans need to take some responsibility for improving our communities so that African Americans and other people of color are treated fairly and equitably. I know that Minneapolis and all cities in Minnesota have the potential to be fairer, and better, but that means that we need to push the Minneapolis Police Department to improve its practices and we need to reduce the number of low level offenses on the books.