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Discussing Racial Bias in Law Enforcement

September 16, 2014 By Deb Balzer, Communications Director

Recent high profile cases of alleged police misconduct have propelled the conversation about police treatment of the black community, especially black men and what many believe is a different set of standards. Nationally, the tragic shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and locally, the case of a Chris Lollie, who was tasered and arrested by St. Paul police while waiting for his children in a skyway have raised questions and concerns about general community trust in our law enforcement officers.

We at Minnesota 2020 ask: "What can we do from a policy perspective to ensure that our laws are enforced according to standards of racial equity, and to ensure that police practices are safe and equitable across communities?"

Today, we have an opportunity to talk with two experts about what builds trust in our community:

Dr. Duchess Harris is Professor of American Studies at Macalester College and an author who has written extensively on the role of race in our country.

Wintana Melekin is a civic engagement organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

Join us for conversation and share your questions. This conversation is open all day. Dr. Harris and Wintana will both be joining us from 8-9:30 am.

 

 Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.

39 Comments:

  • Rachel says:

    September 16, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Good morning! (I am Rachel, your behind-the-scenes website manager, keeping you safe from spam.)

    Dr. Harris and Wintana will both be joining us around 8:00 this morning. From now until then, please take a minute to share some of your thoughts, experiences, or ask any questions you’d like our discussion leaders to address.

  • Rachel says:

    September 16, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Question from Peter Kelley, submitted via email:

    Is the division between community and city a result from: adults not passing
    on the ethics/philosophies of the 60’s to the 80’s (there were some
    remarkable philosophies that emerged) OR are we really looking at government
    philosophies that are out of sync with society OR Ia this particular
    individuals who are out of touch with what is happening and responding
    questionably?

  • Rachel says:

    September 16, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Comment submitted via email:

    Sorry I am going to miss your online discussion this morning with Wintana
    Melekin due to prior commitments. I would hope that these Police State
    actions in our back yard are a wake up call to all of Minnesota to finally
    end the RACIST War on the POOR we call the “DRUG WAR”. It permeates
    everything from our Education system and it’s achievement gap, to our third
    class health care system, to our RACIALLY BIASED lack of economic
    opportunity. It poisons our society with distrust, hatred, and violence in
    return for said mistreatment. We of Minnesota must take a leadership roll in
    ending this “New Jim Crow”.
    Sincerely,
    W. D. (Bill) Hamm

  • Teri Starnes says:

    September 16, 2014 at 7:47 am

    In today’s paper, there is an article about Minneapolis police testing body cameras. This is a start. We need to pressure the police to move beyond testing such accountability devices and practices into requirements that all police use such technology. We need to increase accountability for police. We’d like to think we are supportive of those who are serving our communities. Many of us would probably like to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, however, doing so does not serve our collective safety or the reputation of honorable police officers. We need to prosecute police for violence and illegal racial profiling. We must demand that our police departments be demilitarized also. The amount of force displayed in Ferguson, MO was alarming.

  • Wintana says:

    September 16, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hey all, I am Wintana the civic and political engagement director of MN-NOC. Looking forward to talking to you all this morning. #FreeTheVote

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:05 am

      Thanks for much for joining us, Wintana!  Professor Harris will also be joining in about half an hour, but why don’t we start off with your story.  Can you tell people what happened to you and your canvass crew?

    • kay kessel says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Dear Wintana

      I met you at the Capitol two years ago and you helped the League of Women Voters and the Second Chance Coalition develop a Forum which we held last March on Interrupting the Prison Pipeline.  We had several speakers, including Deputy Chief Kris Arneson.  African American citizens were most upset having her on the panel but she has worked closely with many people in the community to alter the police culture.  One of our goals was to educate people about Restoring the vote for the 70,000 Minnesotans who are felons.  Last year it didn’t pass but this year many groups in a large coalition including LWVMN, NOC, Take Action Minnesota and more are educating and advocating for restoring that vote.  To think that you and others from NOC were so mistreated by a police officer who was African American is so bewildering and upsetting.  I was with a group of Mayflower Isaiah members who were door knocking last Thursday regarding restoring the vote, and other racial inequity issues.  We were all caucasian and did not have to deal with the police. Wintana, we are so concerned about what happened to you.

      • Wintana Melekin says:

        September 16, 2014 at 8:29 am

        Thank you Kay. You’re right. Inequitable policing has a direct correlation on voting rights in Minnesota. Navell was actually out canvassing that night for our voting rights campaign to restore the vote to those with felonies, but petty arrests like these are what feed our prison industrial system and deny us the right to vote and be politically engaged. For someone with a record, even a minor offense like this can lead to an extended probation time, which can take away their right to vote even longer.

  • Deb Balzer says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Wintana,

    Thank you for joining us today. I’d love to hear about your experience recently at Cub Foods in North Minneapolis.

    • Duchess Harris says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Good Morning,

      This is Professor Harris!

  • Wintana Melekin says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Last Thursday I was leading a canvass out of our north Minneapolis office when I heard a canvasser was arrested at Cub Foods. I went to the Cub Foods, began to ask questions of the arresting officer, and was arrested myself. I was especially concerned because I had heard the officer had tackled the canvasser to the pavement and threatened to shoot witnesses.

    Last night we held a community response meeting at NOC with about 100 people. We marched to Cub Foods to demand justice, and the manager promised to deliver our message. Our community is united to hold the MPD accountable.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Did they give a justification for these arrests?  Was the canvasser doing anything wrong?  Were you?

      • Wintana Melekin says:

        September 16, 2014 at 8:21 am

        No, we didn’t do anything wrong. They accused of trespassing, but it’s clearly shown in the video that I followed all directions. It’s ridiculous that I was arrested for having a conversation in a grocery store when I was in no way committing a crime. Navell was having a conversation with an interested community member who approached him to ask him about our voting rights campaign. It’s false accusations like these that lead to petty arrests that change the lives of millions of Americans, especially black Americans, every year.

  • Duchess Harris says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Professor Harris is on line.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:23 am

      Thanks for joining us, Professor Harris.  Can you provide some context for us about how Wintana’s experience this week fits in the broader story of law enforcement in Minnesota and the US?  Is this an outlier?  Or the norm?

  • Wintana Melekin says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:16 am

    This is one of many examples that show how police are using tactics of excessive force, harassment, and intimidation to abuse their power to control communities of color, especially African-Americans. The need for control is a part of cop culture. There’s a difference between police officers stopping crime and police officers thinking everyone’s a criminal. Right now we’ve got way too much of the latter, especially in north Minneapolis.

    • Duchess Harris says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Good Morning Wintana!

      I agree with you that pop culture glorifies police brutality.

  • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Police brutality against minorities across the nation is out of control. Now a group of lawyers are stepping in to try and change this. The National Bar Association (NBA) wants various cities to turn over records concerning police brutality cases. The NBA says it plans to file open records requests in 25 cities to get this info and to study allegations of police misconduct.

    According to Pamela Meanes, president of the NBA, the nation’s oldest and largest national organization of predominantly African-American attorneys and judges had been planning for a nationwide campaign to fight police brutality when unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by White police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo.

    The NBA selected the 25 cities based on their African-American populations and reported incidents of police brutality. They are: Birmingham, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Phoenix; Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif., Washington, D.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Atlanta; Chicago; Louisville, Ky.; Baltimore, Md.; Detroit; Mich.; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Las Vegas, Nev.; New York City; Cleveland, Oh; Memphis, Tn., Philadelphia; Dallas; Houston; San Antonio, Texas, and Milwaukee, Wi.

    • Deb Balzer says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Thank you for joining us Professor Harris. Do you feel we there are more cases of police misconduct or are we beginning to hear more about what is happening here in the Twin Cities and across the nation. Also, do you have any thoughts on the use of police body cameras and any effect they may have on how community members are treated?

    • Wintana Melekin says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

      The fear of the police killing us is real, and it lets them get away with a lot of smaller things. I wanted to keep standing up for Navell that night, but I left the grocery store when asked because I was afraid I would get tased, even though I was clearly doing nothing wrong. Then I was arrested anyway. The women who witnessed Navell’s arrest had to get back in their car because the officer had threatened to shoot them. We’re at a point where you let them brutalize you, or they’ll brutalize you even more.

  • Mark Freeman says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Wintana, I am very frustrated concerning your recent arrest.  Being a North Minneapolis resident, I am highly confused and frustrated with the level of continued police harrassment and unjust impedement and detainment of individuals in our community.  If there is a need for police action, that is one thing.  But for registering people to vote, and discussing voting rights with citizens in a public area?!  I am also frustrated with the level of “real crime” in our neighborhoods.  Why are we harrassing INNOCENT people, but not apprehending the crimminals?  And I would also state that I am a over 50-year old white male.  I am frustrated that my neighbors and friends, who are Black, Hispanic, or Asian are subjected to a different treatment than myself.  I have wittnessed it, and am disgusted by it.  Our neighborhoods are losing respect for sworn officers.

    • Dave Bishop says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Two questions:

      Out of curiosity, who called the police to the Cub Foods? Or was he working the Cub?

      Racial bias and militarization of the police are two separate issues, to me. Racial bias has always been an issue for the US. Militarization is a more recent phenomenon. Is there any talk of training the officers to recognize their own biases and to be respectful of differences. (Or at least, equally disrespectful.)

      • Wintana Melekin says:

        September 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

        The police officer was actually off-duty but in uniform serving as private security to Cub Foods. This is illegal in many other cities. It is outrageous that the police in Minneapolis are allowed to use the power of their uniforms and badges to protect private corporate interests. Once an arrest is made, he is suddenly on-duty and being paid by our tax dollars.

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:39 am

    What can we do from a policy perspective to discourage racial bias and aggression?  Teri mentioned cameras, which were also discussed at the NOC meeting last night with a mix of optimism and concern about how they’d be used, regulated, etc. 

    What other proactive policy changes would go on a “racially equitable policing” platform?

    • Wintana Melekin says:

      September 16, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Body cameras are a good start, but the community needs some control over access to that footage. Community policing as Dr. Harris mentioned is also a great idea. We need a code of ethics for our officers and a civilian review board with full disciplinary power, so that when an officer steps outside the code of conduct the people actually have the power to decide how to discipline them (instead of awarding them Purple Hearts).

      We also need to reexamine how citations are used and their effects on people of color. NOC members have been stopped for outdated racist laws against spitting or three people standing on a corner. The trespassing charges against me and Navell are another example. The war on drugs has played a big role in the criminalization of the black community, but black people are often criminalized for minor nonviolent offenses that have nothing to do with drugs. Instead of having all these campaigns to drop the charges, we need to STOP the charges before they begin.

      Also, we shouldn’t allow off-duty police officers in uniform to serve as private security for corporations. That raises some serious questions about who they’re actually protecting and serving.

  • Danne Johnson says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Was there some progress in the area of community policin in the 70s and 80s? What happened?  The war on drugs the economy, back lash??? Thoughts

  • Bonnie says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:46 am

    It seems to me that making sure the face of the police matches the face of the community would be a big help.  Encouraging people of color to fill community positions (police, fire, emergency AND community decision makers)  would go a long way to communicate concern for ALL community members.

    • Wintana Melekin says:

      September 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

      That’s a great idea but isn’t sufficient. The officer who arrested me was black, but he was taking advantage of a racist system that dehumanizes and takes advantage of black people to have some personal power. It also requires a culture change of how the police treat our communities.

    • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

      September 16, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Bonnie,

      I agree with you.  I think that if the police force reflected the community population there would be more trust.  One concern is the difficulty of gaining a position in the force.  Once that is achieved, many officers experience discrimination.  Right now there are three police officers in the state of Washington who have filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit.  Where do you think we go from here?

      • Camille Galles says:

        September 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

        Good Morning Dr. Harris,

        I was wondering if you could please address the policies Mayor Hodges plans to implement in Minneapolis. She spoke of diversifying the police force and adding body cameras. I was wondering if you could talk about the actual nitty-gritty of how this could be done. In particular I am curious about the body cameras—how exactly do they work and how do they hold officers accountable? Are these kinds of polices more effective at a national or local level? Does Mayor Hodges’ budget address take enough action? Thank you!

        • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

          September 16, 2014 at 9:23 am

          Camille,

          You are posing very important questions.  As far as the nitty, gritty goes, I am sure one of the major issues is if there is money available for body cameras.  I can’t speak to their technology, but if they record police behavior, they can be admitted as evidence.  I think these policies are effective on both a national and a local level.  I think her budget address is move in the right direction.

  • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:47 am

    My colleagues Dr. Ron Daniels, who is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York, argues that President Obama should also seize the moment to convene an Emergency Summit on Policing Policy and Public Safety.  He thinks that the summit could identify and share best practices for building effective police/community relations. He acknowledges that skepticism about such a Summit is warranted, but it could have the effect of providing the President and the Attorney General with a high profile platform to articulate principles for a different kind of policing in this country.

  • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

    September 16, 2014 at 8:50 am

    To Danne Johnson, most people don’t think of the Black Panthers as community policing, but they were successful until they were dismantled by local police and the FBI.

    • Thomas O'Connell says:

      September 16, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Yes, Dr. Harris, the example of the Black Panthers is a good one.  The American Indian Movement also had a patrol in the early to mid 70’s I think and then later a group called the Guardian Angels or something—started in California I think but also had a contingent in Minneapolis.  On an entirely different note—what about Mad Dads?  My guess is that is a rich variety of community-based efforts over the years.  It would be good to take a look back, see what we can learn as we look to the future.

  • Anne Winkler-Morey says:

    September 16, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Nobody should be given special protection from the law especially not those who are armed. The police can not police themselves anymore than priests or the NBA. Beyond that we need a whole different kind of training - the opposite of militarization which signals to the police that the people are the enemy. I teach Race and Public Policy at Metro state which graduates large numbers of Twin Cities police. My course is filled with education students and some business majors for whom the class fills a diversity requirement - but no criminal justice majors. Seems to me it should be a requirement.  I do not know what their requirement are. One of my students is investigating this for her research project so I hope to know soon.

    • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

      September 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Anne,

      I think it’s important that most of us don’t know what the requirements are to enter the Twin Cities police force.  I think if they implemented a Race and Public Policy requirement, I wonder who would be invited to help write the curriculum.

  • Wintana Melekin says:

    September 16, 2014 at 9:40 am

    We must move to action. This happens all the time. The Cub manager herself told us there have been other incidents with officers at this store. I just learned that the officer who arrested Navell and me has had two lawsuits against him in five years, including one for choking a high school student and causing him to lose consciousness. How do we allow people who choke children to stay on the force?

    There’s a forum on Thursday night at 6 pm Sabathani about community/police relations hosted by Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds with Police Chief Janee Harteau and Council Member Alondra Cano. On Saturday please join us at NOC (911 W Broadway) or on the Eastside of St. Paul (1340 Hazel Street North) for a Restore the Vote day of action.

    Get involved. Pick up a doorknock shift on the Northside. We will not be intimidated.

  • Danne's says:

    September 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Dr. Harris, I agree that the Black Panthers and others served as community police.  I was thinking back to a time when police forces established mini stations, required officers live in the cities where the worked and had regular foot patrols.  This was the practice in the 1970s in Detroit. That wS community policing.  It. Was about being in the community.  Maybe this concept never gained traction.

  • Dr. Duchess Harris says:

    September 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

    I am so pleased that I was a part of this.  I am signing off now.  Thank you for inviting me to participate, and I look forward to future conversations.

    Sincerely,

    Duchess