ACLU Urges Minnesota Governor to Order Racial Data Collection for Police Stops

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
March 15, 2000 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Minnesota
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — In a letter sent today to Governor Jesse Ventura, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union called on the governor to order the state patrol to begin tracking the race of the motorists they stop.

Citing a December, 1999 Gallup Poll that indicates that 59% of Americans believe that race-based profiling is widespread and that 81% disapprove of the practice, Executive Director Charles Samuelson said, “There is no downside to this action. If racial profiling does not exist as Commissioner Weaver says, this will prove him correct. If, on the other hand, racial profiling does exist, this will show the extent of the problem and will even begin to reduce the problem simply by requiring reporting.”

Some legislators have called for no action on this issue because Minnesota is not facing a federal lawsuit, as is the case in some of the other states that have implemented racial reporting.

“Governor Ventura knows this is the right thing to do, as do most Minnesotans,” said Samuelson. “Since when did Minnesotans need a federal lawsuit to make them do what they know in their hearts to be right?”

Recently, New Jersey announced that it would join five other states and more than 100 local law enforcement agencies across the nation in requiring officers to report the race of the people they stop. Both New Jersey and Maryland faced federal lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and entered into consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice to end racial profiling.

In addition, the ACLU is vigorously urging passage (see: archive.aclu.org/action/dwb106.html) of the federal “Traffic Stops Statistics Act” now moving through Congress, a measure that would encourage traffic stop reporting throughout the United States.

“Public confidence in the police is crucial if the police are to continue in their successful efforts to reduce crime. The ACLU believes that anything we can do to improve public confidence in the equity of our law enforcement will benefit all of us.”

The ACLU’s letter to the governor follows.

March 17, 2000

Dear Governor Ventura,

The MCLU was distressed to learn that Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver and Representative Rich Stanek have stalled a proposal to determine whether state law enforcement officials engage in racial profiling. Representative Stanek and Commissioner Weaver apparently believe that racial profiling is not a problem in Minnesota and that they should not undertake such a study until there is a problem. Representative Stanek, who would have no personal liability if the state were sued, prefers to wait until the state faces a major lawsuit alleging racial profiling. He was quoted in the Pioneer Press as saying, “There have been no big lawsuits, no big police investigations…It hasn’t been a problem in Minnesota.”

Contrary to what Representative Stanek and Commissioner Weaver believe to be true, a significant portion of the state’s population does believe that racial profiling is a problem in this state. Ask any group of minority Minnesotans and I guarantee you, the majority will tell you that they believe they have been stopped by police at least once for no other reason than the color of their skin. The MCLU receives much anecdotal information about racial profiling that happens every day in this state. Perception is reality. That perception engenders public mistrust of police, which in turn renders law enforcement officers less effective in doing their jobs. A large-scale effort on the part of state and local law enforcement agencies to track the race of individuals stopped by police would go a long way toward ameliorating the perceived racism that many believe exists among the state’s law enforcement officers. If Representative Stanek and Commissioner Weaver are correct, and racial profiling is not a problem in Minnesota, the data will reinforce that fact and serve to increase public confidence in law enforcement officers. If, on the other hand, DWBB is a problem in the state, the data will help to identify the problem and address it before the state faces costly, protracted litigation. In fact, simply collecting data on race will reduce the number of racially motivated stops.

A number of states recognize that racial profiling is a problem that must be addressed. They have moved to voluntarily collect data on police stops to identify any potential problems before they escalate into a DOJ investigation or lawsuit. In the past, New Jersey State officials refused to acknowledge that they had a problem with racial profiling by law enforcement officers. In the end, New Jersey officials were forced to look down the barrel of a U.S. Department of Justice gun and they scrambled to put together a consent decree to stop the DOJ’s planned lawsuit.

Governor, this is Minnesota. You have an opportunity to do better than New Jersey. You have the opportunity to take the lead and set an example for other states to follow when dealing with this difficult issue. Representative Stanek is correct, there have not been any big lawsuits on this issue in Minnesota…yet. You and Commissioner Weaver have the opportunity to be proactive. You can simply order the State Patrol to begin reporting their perception of the race of the people they stop.

The MCLU respectfully urges you to do the right thing. I am enclosing a copy of the ACLU’s informative 1999 report, “DRIVING WHILE BLACK: Racial Profiling On Our Nation’s Highways”. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss strategies the state might employ to gather data that will help determine whether there is a problem with racial profiling, and how to address that problem.

Sincerely,

Charles Samuelson
Executive Director

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