Minneapolis a Case Study For Policing in America


By Emma Andersson

Being Black in America today is rough. Turns out being Black and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, doesn’t make it any easier. Often appearing on “Top 10 Best Places to Live” lists, Minneapolis is billed as a progressive, accessible American city, where residents can work, raise families, and generally live out their own American dream. But if you’re a person of color or of a lower socioeconomic status (or, even worse, both) living in Minneapolis, the numbers tell a different tale – indeed, a tale of two cities.

Picking Up the Pieces – Policing in America,  A Minneapolis Case Study” is an in-depth look at policing in Minneapolis that explores the who, what, when, where, why and how low-level arrests occurred in Minneapolis during a 33-month time span. In recent months the ACLU analyzed data on low-level arrests made by the Minneapolis Police Department between January 2012 and September 2014. To be clear, low-level offenses are those that carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a maximum fine of $3000, or both, if convicted.  Many of these offenses are punishment by only a fine.

Results of the ACLU data crunch are staggering, and they make it clear that the most vulnerable populations living in Minneapolis are being policed differently than the more fortunate, resulting in a Minneapolis divided.

According to the data, Black people in Minneapolis are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than a white person. Native Americans are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested. And it doesn’t end there.

Youth and homeless populations bear the brunt of unequal policing as well. Black and Native American youth are 5.8 times and 7.7 times more likely, respectively, to be arrested for a low-level offense than white youth. Furthermore, 40 percent of all youth arrests in Minneapolis are for curfew violations. Instead of pushing kids into the jaws of the criminal justice system, law enforcement should guarantee their safety by bringing them home to their parents or to another safe place.

These arrests, and their attendant racial disparities, are not inevitable. Rather they appear to be the product of racially biased policing and broken police practices. Whether caused by implicit or explicit bias, the result is the same. Communities of color in Minneapolis are being pushed further to the margins.

Moreover, the quality and fairness of every interaction with police officers has wide-ranging implications, according to Anthony Newby, the executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in North Minneapolis. “Political power starts with the police,” he explains. “And that’s most people’s front-line experience with the government.  And when that’s negative, and consistently negative, it informs people’s everyday experience and generally makes people withdraw from wanting anything to do with politics or political power.”

Sadly, any entry point into the American criminal justice system today is a pathway to a more difficult life. Those arrested bear the punishments directly imposed, as well as collateral consequences that can snowball and follow them around, sometimes for life. The financial burdens of fines and fees, loss of employment, ineligibility for certain jobs, the potential housing and financial aid penalties, the social stigma, and the stress of navigating through the criminal justice maze wear people down and make it significantly more difficult to achieve a healthy, fruitful existence.

Moreover, a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice demonstrated how spending as few as a couple days in jail can “increase the likelihood of a sentence of incarceration and the harshness of that sentence, reduce economic viability, promote future criminal behavior, and worsen the health of the largely low-risk defendants who enter them—making jail a gateway to deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system at considerable costs to the people involved and to society at large.” Simply put, by unfairly targeting the most vulnerable populations for low-level arrests, police in Minneapolis are making it harder for its own communities to succeed.

Law enforcement exists to serve and protect. But arresting a homeless man of color for panhandling or a young person for a curfew violation doesn’t further this goal. These kinds of arrests achieve the opposite, pushing people further away from health, wealth, and opportunity.

The ACLU has offered recommendations to officials in Minneapolis, and they have taken note. But much more work lies ahead.

Everyone in Minneapolis has the same right to be free from unequal treatment by the police. Now is the time for Minneapolis to seize the opportunity and build stronger, more inclusive community-police relations, guaranteeing that constitutional rights don’t apply to only some people in some parts of the city. Only then can a tale of two cities become a story of one Minneapolis — unified, fair, and equal.

For more information on “Picking Up the Pieces, Policing in America: A Minneapolis Case Study,” click here: feature/picking-pieces.

Emma Andersson works for the Criminal Law Reform Project with the ACLU.

To read the full report: “Picking up the Pieces: A Minneapolis Case Study,” click here.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. zaqzaq

    The study that David cites did note that “although Black people were arrested for low-level offenses at far higher rates than white people, of those who were arrested, there was not a significant difference in how frequently police officers booked Black arrestees and white arrestees [in jail]. It’s one data point where the police treatment of white and Black people in Minneapolis was relatively the same.”  This data point really points out the flaw in the claim of disparate treatment.  If the police were really being unequal then the rate of who goes to jail and who gets a citation and is allowed to stay out of custody would demonstrate this.  In fact it demonstrates equal treatment regardless of ethnicity.  There are many reasons that I point out below that could form the basis for different arrest rates by ethnicity.  It further demonstrates that the ACLU is forcing its narrative onto the statistics and cannot be relied upon for a balanced approach.

    The study noted that, “The offenses with 100 or more occurrences that had the highest disparities were violations of the city’s taxicab ordinance (57 times more likely*), loitering with intent to commit a narcotics offense (26 times more likely), excess sound from a motor vehicle (23 times more likely), truancy (20 times more likely), and contempt of court (20 times more likely).”  

    This study points out that the minority community is primarily low income and clusterd in certain parts of the city and certain schools.  The study fails to include whether these neighborhoods are classified as high crime as it would make sense for the police to have more officers patrolling in “high crime” neighborhoods.  This police focus could explain some or all of the disparity in enforcement.  The Taxicab ordinance violations should not have been included as the vast majority of the taxicab drivers are Somali as noted by the study.  I would expect in a large city that their are certain neighborhoods, usually low income and minority where people go to purchase narcotics from street dealers and cops are more likely to patrol those locations resulting in more arrests.  I am not sure if any organization has done a study on which ethnicity plays their car radios the loudest.  We can all go by common experience on that one.  The truancy disparity could easily be explained by family priorities.  Families with a college education are more likely to place greater significance in not only attending school but excelling in classes.  After all the expectation for those children is to attend a good college.  These parents are going to make sure their children go to school.  Uneducated low income parents are less likely to see the value of education.  These children and parents may also see college attendance as unattainable due to cost.  These different family cultures most likely explains the significant disparity in truancy arrests.  How many of these kids are selling drugs on street corners instead of going to school because they see drug sales as the best way to make money.  Did the ACLU request a breakdown by ethnicity of those who commit the crime of “contempt of court” which I believe means that they did not go to court when they were supposed to and a warrant was issued for their arrest?  If minorities are 20 times more likely to blow off their court date it would only make sense that they are 20 times more likely to be arrested for contempt of court.  

    The ACLU tries to make this a policing issue when it is really a community issue.  The solution is not to criticize the police but to criticize the communities that are failing and then look for solutions to the underlying causes.  How do you get this population to value an education?  How do you improve the economic opportunities for these communities?  That is where the discussion must take place.  


  2. Davis Progressive

    “This data point really points out the flaw in the claim of disparate treatment.  If the police were really being unequal then the rate of who goes to jail and who gets a citation and is allowed to stay out of custody would demonstrate this.  In fact it demonstrates equal treatment regardless of ethnicity. ”

    not necessarily, it just means that the act of arresting is not distinguished for the act of arresting and booking.  and that makes a lot of sense you end up with a far higher level of intrusion with the act of arresting.

    1. zaqzaq

      If there was an implicit bias, which is often the claim, then minorities would find themselves carted off to jail in a higher percentage than whites.  That has not happened here.  If there is a correlation between crime and economic status and in this city the minorities have a significantly higher percentage in the low income class and with the poor committing more crime then there will be more minorities arrested.  Police may target areas with the most calls for service or where there research indicates have more crime.  Putting resources where the problem exists is just good policing.

      Looking at the truancy issue the starting point should be the ethnic makeup of the truants.  If the ethnic arrest pattern mirrors the same percentages as the total truants then how is this a policing issue?  It is more convenient for the ACLU to claim that the police are racist than the inconvenient truth that the majority of the truants are minorities and that this explains the truancy arrest numbers.

      Baltimore is probably a good example in the last month were aggressive policing is down as documented by the fewer arrests and the murder rate has nearly doubled.  Just an observation or maybe just another inconvenient truth for DP.

        1. zaqzaq

          Stops may also have nothing to do whatsoever about race.   Racial disparity in arrests alone is not evidence of racial profiling.  There are so many factors that you have to get through before you can credibly go there. For example the rate of arrest for taxi drivers was biased as the vast majority of taxi drivers in that town were Somali.  You just avoided the truancy arrest rate issue in my earlier post.

  3. Davis Progressive

    “The ACLU tries to make this a policing issue when it is really a community issue”

    disagree.  the police are disproportionately targeting one population over another.

    1. PhilColeman

      Let’s focus on the comment: “the police are disproportionately targeting one population over another.” That does capture the thrust and intent of this column topic offered by the ACLU.

      But consider the verb, “targeting.” In instances where the police exercising their own self-initiative, and target minorities for nefarious reasons, the point can be made that these contacts with select citizens could be racially motivated.

      Municipal police are deployed in numbers that reflect higher rates of what are called, “calls for service.” In other words, police are assigned to high-activity areas in response to the historical work-loads seen from past statistical analysis. Conversely, quiet residential areas with fewer calls for service, receive less police presence. More police in an area naturally increases the potential of police seeing a crime in progress and acting accordingly.

      And, yes of course, these disparities in calls for service are directly proportional to the social-economic status of the region. To date, nobody has yet blamed law enforcement for CAUSING this economic disparity in our culture. But the police are constantly compelled into dealing with it when it comes to crime activity. That’s their sworn duty.

      When the police are SUMMONED by persons of color to assist persons of color who are victims of a dispute, conflict, crime–and the police must act–it often happens that minorities are taken into custody or cited.

      Taking into account the innumerable preceding studies of the social phenomenon cited here, had the ACLU taken just one additional step further in their research–and noted the percentage of minorities being formally processed as a result of a another’s minorities misfortune–this damming column would never had been published. This is due to the simple fact the disparity in minority arrests were the result of serving the public safety needs of other law-abiding minorities.



      1. Davis Progressive

        “But consider the verb, “targeting.” In instances where the police exercising their own self-initiative, and target minorities for nefarious reasons, the point can be made that these contacts with select citizens could be racially motivated.”

        while this happens, there is another view of targeting that is more mundane and more implicit bias than explicit bias.  and that is there is a perception about where crime occurs – the reality of perception could perhaps be challenged more but that’s the perception.  they put their resources in part into those high crime areas which is why they encounter more people of color and thus arrest more, etc.

        “This is due to the simple fact the disparity in minority arrests were the result of serving the public safety needs of other law-abiding minorities.”

        this is only true if you believe that the police are prosecuting more minorities because they are committing more crimes.  however, a lot of the arrests end up being for low-level offences and there is actually evidence that blacks and whites commit those types of offences at similar rates.

        1. Frankly

          You didn’t even really read what Phil Coleman wrote and just responded with your own bias.

          His point is one that I and others have made.  The studies ignore the fact that cops will spend more time in higher-crime areas, and higher-crime areas are lower income areas, and lower income areas are significantly over-represented in minorities.

          This accounts for the majority of statistical difference we see in minority over-representation in cop encounters.

          But studies like this from the ACLU are political and ignore certain facts inconvenient to their political agenda.

          And with respect to the argument that we also see higher minority-cop encounters in higher income areas, this fails to calculate proximity of low-income, high-crime areas.  In other words, if you paint the low-income areas white, and the higher-income areas black, there is a gray area in the higher-income territory where more crime happens and cops will spend more time.

          Now, I expect that any human that is subjected to behavior patterns connected to people of a certain race will start to anticipate those patterns.   Is this racism?  Is this bias?  Or is this just a calculated response that is part of our biology for survival?  I suspect it is much more the latter.

        2. zaqzaq


          DP boils this down to what “you believe” or in other words an opinion unsupported by facts.  DP has many opinions unsupported by facts which he shares quite frequently while often demanding supporting studies or articles.  Thanks for calling him on it.

        3. Davis Progressive

          “You didn’t even really read what Phil Coleman wrote”

          how do you know?

          “The studies ignore the fact that cops will spend more time in higher-crime areas, and higher-crime areas are lower income areas, and lower income areas are significantly over-represented in minorities.”

          now i question whether you read my comments, because i addressed this point.

      2. tribeUSA

        PC–good to see your contributions to the discussion, as someone with an inside view on how policing works.

        I caught part of a good piece on 60 minutes Sunday night interviewing the Cleveland(? I think) police chief (who is black, and came across as an excellent police officer and spokesman of high integrity) about the difficulties police encounter in policing high-crime neighborhoods.

        I’m dismayed at the nonstop barrage of attempts to frame these complex issues of policing in terms of race–it seems to me it would be much more accurate and thus useful to frame these policing issues in terms of the inter-related issues of community culture and economic status–I believe statistics overall are not too much different for poor whites than for poor blacks and hispanics (with the possible exception of gang-related crime; I think a lower percentage of poor whites are gangsters than are poor blacks and hispanics).

        Why not present similar statistics by economic status first? (then perhaps subdivide into racial categories for each economic category)

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    I know some people in Minnesota, Minneapolis was hit with a wave of the so called “knockout game” that the media downplayed. A friend’s young son was attacked during this crime spree, but he never reported the crime. The few reports I have seen from liberal Minnesota is that these crimes (when you dig) are black-on-white.

    Interesting that David and The Vanguard reports on this when there was a startling headline and article in the Wall Street Journal recently of far greater importance.

    The New Nationwide Crime Wave
    The consequences of the ‘Ferguson effect’ are already appearing. The main victims of growing violence will be the inner-city poor.

    “The nation’s two-decades-long crime decline may be over. Gun violence in particular is spiraling upward in cities across America. In Baltimore, the most pressing question every morning is how many people were shot the previous night. Gun violence is up more than 60% compared with this time last year, according to Baltimore police, with 32 shootings over Memorial Day weekend. May has been the most violent month the city has seen in 15 years.

    In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over the same period the previous year. Through April, shootings in St. Louis were up 39%, robberies 43%, and homicides 25%. “Crime is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said St. Louis Alderman Joe Vacarro at a May 7 City Hall hearing.

    “Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid-May. Shootings in Chicago had increased 24% and homicides 17%. Shootings and other violent felonies in Los Angeles had spiked by 25%; in New York, murder was up nearly 13%, and gun violence 7%…

    “.Those citywide statistics from law-enforcement officials mask even more startling neighborhood-level increases. Shooting incidents are up 500% in an East Harlem precinct compared with last year; in a South Central Los Angeles police division, shooting victims are up 100%.”

    “…The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months….”

    This incessant drumbeat against the police has resulted in what St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last November called the “Ferguson effect.” Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the “criminal element is feeling empowered,” Mr. Dotson reported. Arrests in St. Louis city and county by that point had dropped a third since the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Not surprisingly, homicides in the city surged 47% by early November and robberies in the county were up 82%.

    “Similar “Ferguson effects” are happening across the country as officers scale back on proactive policing under the onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric. Arrests in Baltimore were down 56% in May compared with 2014.”

    My bolds.


    P.S. A friend of the family, an African American PhD psychologist, moved to Minneapolis because of the liberal viewpoints and family environment. He’s happy as a clam. There may also be a Somali crime element here that is under-reported in the Twin Cities.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Interesting that David and The Vanguard reports on this when there was a startling headline and article in theWall Street Journal recently of far greater importance.”

      someone other than david wrote this article.  also, i believe david has explained multiple times why he focuses on police and court issues rather than “crime”

      “A friend of the family, an African American PhD psychologist, moved to Minneapolis because of the liberal viewpoints and family environment. ”

      the african americans i know from minneapolis describe it similar to how they describe davis – a liberal community that is overwhelmingly white and surprisingly intolerant of people of color.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        That’s not what I hear. The community accepted and aids a large immigrant Hmong population, and Somali population, among others.

        I guess if someone views Davis as “intolerant”, that tells us a lot.

        1. Davis Progressive

          minneapolis has a long reputation in this area, so i question what you’re hearing and who from.  hmong and somali populations are not the litmus test anyway.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          Long reputation? Really, like what?

          This video clip about the knockout game is telling. While Minnesota is roughly 2-3% black, the lead TV anchor is black, and two news reporters appear to be black. That is pretty diverse for a midwestern state. And the press doesn’t identify the alleged criminal by ethnicity, but it appears the alleged murderer (the victim died) was black.


          Seems like a pretty tolerant state to me, and they’ve accepted 40% of Somali refugees that have come to the US.

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