Disparity and discrimination


It was the afternoon of Wednesday, July 19, 2000. Ken White, executive director of the Department of Civil Rights of the City of Minneapolis was driving his car, a BMW, after leaving East Phillips Park. His 6-year-old granddaughter was with him. Seconds later, three police cars with sirens blaring stopped the car and treated White like a common thug.

According to White, the six police officers interrogated him for 20 minutes and treated him very disrespectfully, even after identifying himself clearly as being the executive director of the City’s Department of Civil Rights. The officials finally let him go, without ever offering an apology.

White did not commit any crimes. White did not violate any traffic laws. As many see it, the only problem was that White was an African American man driving a luxury vehicle in a city where racial profiling occurs all too often.

White’s case raised a political storm and the office of Sharon Sayles Belton (then mayor of Minneapolis) had to calm the gale of critics that fell on the city’s Police Department. Police Chief Robert Olson had to withstand enormous pressure from minority groups that demanded an investigation, in spite of having offered an apology to White on behalf of the department.

It has been six years since this incident in which Ken White was humiliated and treated like a criminal by six white officers. The city of Minneapolis and the state have pledged to combat this kind of racial profiling; however, a recent report indicates that the practice continues, that better efforts need to be made, and that there is still a lot left to do.

According to the report, issued by the Council on Crime and Justice, Minnesota ranked fourth nationwide for income disparities in 2004. According to that same report, the population of people of color in the state has grown 200 percent since 1980, whereas the white population has decreased by 9.3 percent in the same time. Factors like the education, level of poverty, immigratory status and language acquisition are additional elements that contribute to this disparity.

Low Level Offenses in Minneapolis
The report, entitled, “Low Level Offense in Minneapolis: An Analysis of Arrests and their Outcomes,” analyzes data collected in 2001, from the Minneapolis Police Department, Hennepin County District Court, and the Adult Detention Center of Hennepin County.

The crimes selected for the study were:
Driving after license revocation (DAR)
Driving after cancellation of license (DAC)
Driving without a license (NODL)
Disorderly conduct (DISC)
Loitering with Intent: Prostitution (PROST)
Loitering with intent to sell narcotics (LOITER)
Lurking with intent to commit crime (LURK)

The study came about due to the preoccupation of certain sectors who expressed their concerns during a meeting held in 2001 in North Minneapolis by the Council on Crime and Justice. Some members of the community expressed concern that misdemeanors were used by police as “fishing excursions”, that they gave the police the opportunity to persecute people of color, to request warrants and to look for more serious crimes.

The study does demonstrate racial disparities at the point of contact between police and members of the community. The study defines the “point of contact” as the initial encounter between the police and a citizen.

According to the study, African American individuals were 15 times more likely of being arrested than a white individual after being stopped. In the sentencing process, African Americans were seven times more likely to receive a sentence than whites. It is important to note that more than 70 percent of the individuals arrested had no prior arrests or only minor charges against them previously. African American individuals with few or no previous arrests were arrested more frequently than white individuals with similar histories.

To sum up, in 2001, one out of every 60 white individuals was arrested or received a citation. For African Americans, the index was one out of every four, pointing to clear and significant racial disparities in the point of contact between the police and citizens.

Nothing new
The results of this study are far from being something new in Minneapolis. A previous study, called “Racial Statewide Profiling Study,” which was published in 2002, showed that in all the combined jurisdictions, police stopped Latino, African American and Native Americans drivers in greater numbers than they did white drivers.

These disparities were particularly marked for Latinos and African Americans. In Minneapolis in particular, the frequency with which African American drivers who were stopped was 152 percent higher than for whites. And once stopped, they were 52 percent more likely to be searched.

Minneapolis police officers stopped Latinos 63 percent more frequently and once stopped, they were searched 15 percent more of the time. The African American population in Minneapolis in 2000 was 16 percent whereas the white population was 70 percent.

Translated in arrests, the percentage continues to be very unfavorable for African Americans, who constitute 72 percent of those arrested.

Nevertheless, although the level of arrests for African Americans has been out of proportion with respect to the percentage in the total population of Minneapolis, there is no a substantial difference for the cases that in fact received a sentence.

The report says that, “if we were to assume that many of the people with multiple arrests and no convictions were guilty, then the police, prosecutors, and court need to work together to get convictions. If we were to assume that most of the people that were arrested multiple times without convictions were innocent, then police arresting practices need to be changed. Most likely, it is a combination of both of these assumptions.”

But in the study it is clear that the responsibility for the responsibility lies with the system, saying, “Police should be more judicious about making arrests for low level offenses. Public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system is of paramount importance. Without it, crimes go unreported, witnesses do not cooperate, the police (and the criminal justice system generally) are seen as a part of the problem, not as a protector, and societal bonds are eroded. The low convection rate observed in this study can, over time, contribute to an erosion of public trust and confidence. High arrest rates, when couples with low conviction rates, do not serve the community well, and do a disservice to the offender.”

Disparities and immigration status
The Latino community of Minneapolis has also seen itself affected; unfortunately, the immigration status of many forces them to remain silent. Last month, City Pages published a report which documented an email sent by Officer Matthew Segulia, to all personnel, on May 29, 2004, that talked about the arrest of a Mexican immigrant, who had confessed to him that he was undocumented and how he had gotten immigration officers involved. Segulia, suggested, in his email, that the department adopt this practice and collaborate with immigration officials.

Segulia’s case is just one more example of what minority groups face and illustrates the disparities reported in the Council for Crime and Justice’s study. These disparities are significant and everything seems to indicate that they continue to be part of the system. The results of the study need to raise an alarm and become a source of greater criticism and analysis on all levels.