Minneapolis Divided: A Tale of Two Cities

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.

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I think that these findings and others like them show what it means to be "not white" in America. I know first hand the stigma that Native Americans face in North Dakota. I lived there and heard and saw the poor treatment given to them, the unflattering statements, the prejudice. It is so sad that today the Native Americans continue to face de-Americanization in a country where they were here first.


I would say that the Minneapolis study points out the tail of two Americas. I dare say that this happens more than any official anywhere in North America wants to consider. And the shame of it is that we hold ourselves up as the "keepers of human rights" every where in the world.

Betty Mack Shinn

The reality is that the high incarceration rates of Blacks leaves the U.S.A. in violation of the Declaration of Human Rights that was entered when the United Nations was formed after W/WII. This does not help the oppressed targeted group of Blacks or the oppressors. You effectively exclude a revenue source by criminalizing and marginalizing a whole group of would be tax-payers making them tax burdens which is a lose-lose situation. Common sense must eventually prevail, by criminalize Blacks and people of color for minor non-violent offenses you make every community less safe. Eventually, the criminals will return, and after a few days are changed forever. Let's stop the madness. Stop breaking up homes, taking sons from mothers and fathers from children. Please.

Ted Ford

I support the ACLU, however, ACLU lacks credibility in the media because of the appearance of lacking objectivity. In this case, you provide no details to support your claims of racial disparity. For example: what proportions of white to non-white people live in the study area?, what are the income levels of people in the area?, what is your estimation of the number white people who are not being pursued for similar crimes?, and so on. What is your proof that racism/racial profiling is the reason that non-white people are being disproportionally arrested and convicted of crimes? You provide no proof, at all, that non-white people are not simply committing most of the crimes. It is this kind of factless, rhetoric based reporting that marginalized the ACLU's credibility in the media.

Betty Mack Shinn

I am grateful for the ACLU and other organizations and especially individuals who stand up and openly admit the injustices suffered by Blacks and people of color. White privilege in many instances create blinders to the realities of racism and biases experienced daily by Blacks. It's my reality, a fact of life for me, and for my mother born in 1924, and my grandmother born in 1900, and my great-grandmother born around 1882, they for the most part remained silent, just praying things would be different for me and my children. I had an opportunity to attend college, the fulfilment of their dreams. I worked in offices that they would have been proud to just clean the floors. The high rate of poverty, and the high rate of incarceration by Black males isn't an accident. This is deliberate. Discrimination is real, from bank loans, to employment to being stopped by the police. I'm just one person, but, I have five brothers and one sister. My sister and I, after getting our driver's permit rode all over town gaining experience to ace the Driver's test. Each of my brothers received a ticket for 'driving without a license' the first time they but a vehicle on a public street. This isn't just my story. I have Black friends up and down the economic and social ladder. They know from Black doctors and attorneys, they can/have been/will be stopped at any time, and the treatment they receive is based on the level of bias of the officer stopping them.

I'll never stop talking about the injustices, and the high prison rate, the lack of funding for education, the lack of jobs paying a livable wage, these maladies are visited first on Blacks, and poor whites suffer as well. I'm reminded of a quote by Dr. M.L.King: "They gave the Negro Jesus, and they gave the white man Jim Crow. Not much have changed. In fact, weakening the Voting Rights Act, makes it harder for Blacks to vote, and makes upward mobility even more difficult. This is not rhetoric, for me it's life, it's my world view as a Black woman.


Over 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation we the people of the United States of America have not yet truly accepted and consistently worked to make the concepts of equality and justice a functional part of daily life.


All these statistics show is that the majority of the time these laws are being broken by a small portion of the population.


my name is jeff


So people who commit crimes should just not receive the determined punishments because they are black? It seems like think that crime should be committed equally, isn't it possible that black people are arrested more often because they simply commit more crimes? This is the type of nonsense thinking that causes more issues than it solves.




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