One Minneapolis: A call to action


The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights has collaborated with experts from government, business, non-profit, and the community to look at the disparities in education, justice, employment, health, and women and minority businesses.

In collaboration with The Advocate for Human Rights, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, and the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, the One Minneapolis Call to Action Conference was held Friday, December 2, at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The conference focused on best practices currently being utilized around the region to find additional solutions that will bring an end to the divide.

“We are here today to talk about a prominent solution to eliminate disparities in the region,” said Velma Korbel, Director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. “We also want to talk about what success looks like when disparities are eliminated,” she said.

Some startling, yet not surprising statistics, displayed the need for the gap to be closed in Minnesota most. “The disparities are deep and severe,” said Mark Brinda, Workforce Manager for the City of Minneapolis. “In the Twin Cities, you are three times more likely to be unemployed, or in poverty if you are Black. White students are twice as likely to graduate on time than students of color. Those trends reinforce what most of us already know. What strikes me most, is when we compare ourselves to other Metropolitan areas, it says the economy is working for some, but not others,” Brinda said.

According to Dr. Eljinar Austin, the Twin Cities is only second to Milwaukee in unemployment disparities between Blacks and whites. Metropolitan areas following the Twin Cities were Baton Rouge, Memphis, Baltimore, and Cleveland.

“No offense to those cities, but those are not cities we typically compare ourselves to, or compete with for other livability indicators, yet we are beating them in disparities” Brinda said.

Another fact Austin found in analyzing educational obtainment in the Twin Cities, is that Blacks with a Bachelor degree were still twice as likely to be unemployed than whites. “These disparities are wider and deeper here than anywhere else in the country,” Brinda said.

The biggest question is, what is the causing the since of urgency, and what are the cause of these disparities.

“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you come back up; I sure hope this is rock bottom for us,” said Toni Carter, Ramsey County Commissioner. “The on-going recession made us get our hands around the reality for the future. Here in Minnesota, our reality for the future depends on demographics, the balance between seniors, and working people are changing dramatically. We need to prepare a workforce to take on the jobs of the future,” Carter said.

The workshop Crime and Justice focused on racial bias in the court. Panelists provided discussion and data on criminal justice disparities, including arrest and convictions. The discussion also focused on the affects of these impacts on employment, families and the community.

“One statistic that is a basis for this conference is the graduation gap,” said Moderator Judge LaJune Thomas Lange. “One in three Black students graduate on time from the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). This means 67% of Black students in the MPS do not graduate on time,” she said.

Council Crime and Justice Director Ebony Ruhland provided an overview of the racial disparities in the justice system. “Minnesota’s racial disparities are more than twice the national average in the criminal justice system and are even higher for part two crimes, which are usually low level offenses. We have the 12th highest Black to white prison rate in the nation,” she said.

Ruhland pointed out that racial disparities are generated at the first point of contact with the law officer. “We found that Black, Latino and American Indian drivers were stopped and searched at greater rates than white drivers, yet found less contraband,” Ruhland said.

The same occurrence resonates with juveniles as well. In 2003 and 2004 under the Racial Disparity Initiative (RDI), Minneapolis Public Schools referred 2,656 cases to the Hennepin County Juvenile Justice System. Of those, 2,300 were misdemeanor or petty offenses, with 50% involving disorderly conducted. “Low level offenses are being reported to the Hennepin County attorney’s office, then creating a record for the juvenile. These first points of contact are important. These criminal records create barriers regarding housing and employment,” Ruhland said.

“One of the outcomes everyone in the criminal justice system needs to focus on, is the outcome of disproportionate racial disparity we have in the system. In Ramsey County, in the year 2035, half of the population will be people of color,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “If we continue down this path, the public will not have faith in our criminal justice system. We have by-far, the highest incarceration rate in the world,” he said.

“1 in every 31 adults are in the correctional system, and 1 in 26 are on probation, parole, or prison,” Chief Officer of 180 Degrees Inc., Sarah Walker said.

180 Degrees was incorporated in 1971, and in 1973 the halfway house opened its doors to clients. Serving an estimated 250 men each year, the residential program focuses on the transitional needs of formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering the community. The residential program provides short-term housing. Each client is assigned a case manager to develop a case with a focus towards securing stable employment, maintaining sobriety, and establishing acceptable living arrangements in the community. The mission is to turn around lives and create safer communities.

“Minnesota has the 8th highest rate of correctional control in the nation and 4th highest rate of probation,” Walker said. This is unique because we have one of the smallest incarceration rates, meaning we put a lot of people on probation. The crime rate has actually decreased. We’ve just become more punitive; increasing sentences and probation periods,” Walker said.

Another factor is the easy access of records via Internet. “86% of companies do a background check that now includes credit history. Most people believe, if you are under 18, your criminal record is private. The truth is, if you’re charged with a felony as a 16 or 17 year old, you have a permanent public record just from the charge not including conviction, and you will have trouble getting a job,” Walker said.

The conference ended with a call to action, challenging more than 200 civil and human rights professionals, advocacy organization, community leaders, elected officials, law firms, corporations, educators, students, non-profits and local organizations to assist in closing the gap in education, incarceration and employment.