Being Black in America

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For more information, go to: https://www.aclu.org/feature/picking-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. 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. After Jeylani and two friends were ordered out of the car, Webber threatened Jeylani as he handcuffed him.

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

According to police, the rationale for the March 18, 2015, arrest was suspicion that the four young Black teenagers had stolen the car. 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. But Jeylani believes he knows the real reason for his arrest. 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.

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 it is documented. In late 2014, the ACLU obtained arrest data from the Minneapolis Police Department for low-level offenses, such as spitting, loitering, or driving without insurance, from January 1, 2012, to September 30, 2014.

The numbers show a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level crimes, particularly in the low-income and minority communities of North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis. Black people in the city are 8.7 times more likely than White people to be arrested for low-level offenses, and Native Americans have it little better. They are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than White people.

“We’ve become the new South,” warns Anthony Newby. “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.”

“Picking Up the Pieces — Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study” digs into the data the ACLU received 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 over 33 months. The report also recommends reforms to begin the process of improving police-community relations and ensure that all Minneapolitans are policed fairly.

Filmed by Maisie Crow and Molly Kaplan.

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