Picking Up the Pieces – Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study digs into 33 months of data the ACLU obtained from the police department and explores the who, what, when, where, why, and how of low-level arrests occurring in a city known for its affluence and liberal politics. The report also recommends reforms to begin the process of improving police-community relations and ensuring that all Minneapolitans are policed fairly.

Editor’s Note: As a native Minneapolitan, it is a shock to find an ACLU in-depth study on Minneapolis. Not so much because of the subject matter, which I am glad to see addressed, as the fact that being in the middle north of the country and always playing second fiddle to Chicago (and of course New York, San Francisco, and LA) we get overlooked a lot. A visiting poet from the East a few years back was concerned about flying in, and I had to reassure her that yes, we have an international airport. Or as one former work colleague pegged it,”North Overshoe, Minnesota” more or less covers some people’s attitude toward the whole state, including the Twin City (Minneapolis/St. Pau) metropolitan area.

I grew up on the white southside of Minneapolis. The Native Americans lived on Franklin Avenue. We never went there. I am giving my age away when I say all this was before AIM, the American Indian Movement, that started in Minneapolis in the 1970s. Likewise, the north side was where Black people lived. (Not to be confused with northeast Minneapolis [Nordeast], which was where the Czechs and other Eastern Europeans settled.) Originally North Minneapolis was settled by Jewish people. On North Penn Avenue you can still see the former synagogues (now churches of other faiths) and the Jewish star on facades of homes and buildings. Eventually, between the 1940s and 1960s many Jewish people moved to St. Louis Park and other parts of Minneapolis and its suburbs as housing discrimination laws changed, and Black people moved in and became the dominant group living in North Minneapolis. 

Making a case study of Minneapolis is an interesting choice. We have not had race riots since the 1960s. There have been many demonstrations, rallies, and marches around Black Lives Matter since Ferguson, but with the exception of the Mall of America, no attempts to charge the participants. And none of the violence that has marked demonstrations in other parts of the country. Most of the demonstrations have been in downtown Minneapolis or on the north side.

Minneapolis has been in the national spotlight because of the large demonstration at the Mall of America (MOA) in December 2014, which is a place where the nation shops and plays, as well as people from other countries. An international boycott of the Mall of America has been called by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. Charges are still pending against the organizers of the demonstration. Lee Fang of The Intercept has also written about the Mall of America demonstration and the monitoring of and charges against the organizers. Note that the MOA is privately owned, but does receive some public monies. This study, however, covers 33 months and so extends well before the MOA demonstration.

Also, it should be noted the Minneapolis I grew up in—where there were Blacks and Indians and that was about it besides all the white people of Scandinavian and German ancestry—no longer exists. The first wave of immigrants came after the Vietnam War when many Vietnamese settled in Hennepin County (essentially Minneapolis and suburbs). Next came the Hmong people, also after the Vietnam War. Then came the Somali people after their civil war began in 1990, The Minneapolis Star/Tribune has noted an increase in Somali refugees as recently as November of 2014. All of these culturally diverse groups have presented cultural challenges for Minneapolis, where many of them live, and for the State of Minnesota. The Somalis live almost exclusively in Minneapolis. A large Somali Center and Somali marketplaces are located in south Minneapolis, in what the study refers to as the city center, which appears to be rather amorphous in its boundaries but obviously does not include any suburbs, of which there are many. The West Bank by the University of Minnesota is also a Somali area. 

Minnesota is home to over 250,000 Asian Pacific Islanders. Minnesota also has the • 2nd largest population of Hmong • 3rd largest population of Lao • 5th largest population of Burmese • 6th largest population of Cambodians in the United States. Minnesota also has one of the largest adopted Korean populations in the U.S.

Another group of immigrants that has come to Minnesota, and particularly to Minneapolis, starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present, is people of Hispanic origin. Many are from Central America. Our Twin City St. Paul has traditionally had an Hispanic population, where migrant workers who came to Minnesota stayed and put down roots. In the 70s that was where we went for Mexican food. Now the food is everywhere, and particularly along Lake Street between Hwy. 35W and Minnehaha Avenue, which is the boundary of the residential area north of Lake Street in south Minneapolis, an area that was once Black and is now primarily Hispanic. The annual Cinco de Mayo festival is held on Lake Street in this area, and there are Hispanic marketplaces, stores, restaurants, and Taco trucks up and down that strip.

A large Palestinian population has also settled in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. 

In short, Minneapolis is very diverse culturally. The Native Americans and African-American populations are people who have been in this country and in Minneapolis for a long time. And have been discriminated against just as long. To call attention to this discrimination and look for solutions is only just. I think it is also important to understand the context, as Minneapolis (and St. Paul and Minnesota) populations have changed drastically over the last few decades. I assume these changes have taken place in other American cities as well. It is part of the American experience that this immigration and assimilation take place. But for the most part past waves of immigrants, while often looked down upon, were basically white. And European. Even if their religion was a bit different (e.g., the Irish). 

The current waves of immigrants, like the African-Americans and the Native Americans originally, have different religious traditions. Sometimes very different. They have presented a challenge to the social services and other services in Minnesota in so many ways. But now, I just saw on Facebook an anti-Muslim demonstration in Phoenix. The same God, a different interpretation. But not as different as the religious tribal practices of the slaves when they came to this country, of Native Americans when their land was invaded by white people, and more recently of the Vietnamese and Hmong, for example. Or even the Tibetans, who also have a presence in Minneapolis.

And that has led me in a different direction, Why Islamophobia?  And what, if any, relationship does that have to discrimination against African-Americans and Native Americans? Why are they so particularly targeted in Minneapolis, while it appears other immigrant ethic groups are not? Or are they? The Somalis are both Black and Muslim. Many Palestinians are Muslim. A few years back there were some problems with defacement of mosques, but I hear nothing now. And there have been incidents in the past arising out of cultural differences and trigger-happy cops with a Somali. But I hear nothing of that now, except, of course, that ISIS is recruiting in Minnesota and that Somali women are being sent to jail for sending money to their families in war-torn Somalia (accused of material support to the enemies of the U.S.), and the money-wire centers, a life-line for Somalis in Somalia, are being shut down in yet another military madness move. Being Black and Muslim is a particularly heinous crime, evidently. The Somali community in Minnesota feels under attack.

Institutionalized racism is rampant, as Judge Kevin Burke points out. It is the System that reinforces racism. And has in the case of African-Americans and of Indians (see the Doctrine of Discovery) since the origins of this country. The civil rights movement of the 1960s made a difference particularly in regard to individual rights. But institutionalized racism unfortunately still thrives in Minneapolis—and judging from the continued failure to hold criminal and trigger happy cops accountable, as well as the racist paranoia with anti-Muslim rallies being held, along with the anti-Muslim Islamophobia coming out of Washington D.C.—in the rest of the country as well. 

Picking up the Pieces

When Officer Rod Webber quickly approached the car that Hamza Jeylani was sitting in, the 17-year-old hit record on his cell phone.1 Moments earlier, Jeylani and three friends were pulled over by the officer after making a U-turn in a church parking lot in South Minneapolis after playing basketball at the local YMCA.2 After Jeylani and two friends were ordered out of the car, Webber threatened Jeylani as he handcuffed him.3

“Plain and simple, if you fuck with me,” says Webber on the video, “I’m going to break your legs before you get the chance to run.”4 “Can you tell me why I’m being arrested?” asks Jeylani.5 “Because I feel like arresting you,” replies Webber.6

According to police, the rationale for the March 18, 2015, stop and detention was suspicion that the four young Black teenagers had stolen the car.7 But Jeylani rejects this: “The driver had license and insurance, and that was his car.” Complicating matters more, police said the stolen car they were after was a blue Honda Civic. The teenagers, however, were driving a blue Toyota Camry.8 But Jeylani believes he knows the real reason for his stop. He and his friends, all four of whom are of Somali descent, were driving while Black. “I felt like that was a racial profile,” he says.9

The feeling that the Minneapolis Police Department treats people of color, particularly Black and Native American residents, differently than white Minneapolitans isn’t confined to Jeylani and his friends. It’s pervasive, and now because of new in-depth documentation we can see how broad and systematic it is. In late 2014, the ACLU obtained arrest data from the Minneapolis Police Department for low-level offenses that occurred from January 1, 2012, to September 30, 2014. The data includes information about 96,975 arrests.

Picking up the Pieces

The numbers show a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level offenses, particularly in the neighborhoods within North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis, and the city center where more low-income and minority communities live. Black people in the city are 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for low-level offenses, like trespassing, disorderly conduct, consuming in public, and lurking. Native Americans have it no better. They are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white people. Although the ACLU tried to do a similar analysis for the city’s Latino population, the police did not reliably include the ethnicity of the people arrested in the data officers recorded. Similarly, the ACLU tried to obtain data about officer-initiated suspicious persons stops that did not result in an arrest, but the Department informed the ACLU that it does not systematically collect that data.

“We’ve become the new South,”10 warns Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in North Minneapolis. “We’ve become the new premiere example of how to systematically oppress people of color. And again, it’s done through our legal system, and so low-level offenses, as an example, are just one of the many, many ways that Minnesota has perfected the art of suppressing and subjugating people of color.”

Meet Minneapolis

An arrest, even if it doesn’t end in a conviction, is a restriction on liberty, and its consequences often snowball, especially for poor people of color.11 A low-level arrest, according to District Court Judge Kevin Burke of Hennepin County, which contains Minneapolis, “can end up taking somebody who just got a job at Taco Bell and have him fired because they missed work because they were in jail for driving after a suspension case.”12

Once ensnared, the criminal justice system continues to squeeze poor people of color. “Because they missed [work], they’re now behind in their child support,” he says.13 “Because they’re behind in their child support, the county attorney’s office will try to hold them in contempt, to hassle them to get them to pay child support. And so it’s really a very ineffective way of dealing with human behavior.”14

Picking Up the Pieces – Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study digs into 33 months of data the ACLU obtained from the police department and explores the who, what, when, where, why, and how of low-level arrests occurring in a city known for its affluence and liberal politics. The report also recommends reforms to begin the process of improving police-community relations and ensuring that all Minneapolitans are policed fairly.


The Minneapolis data adds to a growing body of ACLU data analysis that demonstrates law enforcement across the nation are over and inequitably policing communities of color and that police practices are in need of sweeping reform. Reports from New York, Chicago (both this year and last), Newark, Philadelphia, Boston, metropolitan Detroit, and Nebraska all describe police departments that reserve their most aggressive enforcement for people of color.

A City Divided Along Economic and Racial Fault Lines

North Minneapolis


Total percentage greater than 100% because of rounding

(Click the link to A City Divided Along Economic and Racial Fault Lines above for the full story of this section.)

By Published On: May 30th, 2015Comments Off on ACLU: Picking Up the Pieces | A Minneapolis Case Study

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