Story at a glance

  • In the wake of the death of George Floyd, public defender Jay Wong analyzed police records to determine how many traffic stops involve drivers of color.
  • Seventy-eight percent of stops from June 2019 to May 2020 were Black and East African drivers, despite the city being predominantly white.

A new study suggests that in Minneapolis — the city where George Floyd was killed while in police custody in May that sparked national civil rights protests — police stop Black and East African drivers at a disproportionately high rate in comparison to their counterparts of other races, although the city is primarily composed of white people.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that 78 percent of police searches as stops for moving or vehicle violations involve Black and East African drivers, based on data from June 2019 through May 2020.

White drivers, meanwhile, composed just 12 percent of similar searches in the course of the same time frame.

Within these 78 percent of traffic stops involving Black and East African drivers, 26 percent result in arrests, as opposed to 41 percent of stops involving white drivers.

“The numbers speak to the volume of Black and brown drivers that are being harassed by police,” Hennepin County Public Defender Jay Wong told the Star-Tribune.

Wong, the author of the report, said that his goal was to quantify the amount of racial profiling and inequality in Minneapolis policing using traffic data and reports. His office hears reports of instances of racial inequality, but in light of the death of Floyd, Wong set out to analyze traffic stops and share the finding with the Minneapolis criminal justice system, with the mission of bringing about change.

“Of course they feel racially profiled, and many of them are angry about that,” Wong explained. “Some clients even feel targeted by specific officers. They know the officers’ names because they get stopped by them over and over.”

Minneapolis Police Commander Charlie Adams said the city should conduct its own investigation to determine the cause for these data.

“Let’s do a study, let’s figure out why that’s occurring,” he said.

Floyd is not the only Black man to suffer from a fatal encounter with Minnesota police. In 2016, Philando Castile was shot and killed in nearby St. Anthony by a police officer who reportedly pulled Castile over for a broken taillight. Police radio recordings later revealed that the officer pursued Castile as a potential suspect in a robbery in the area, citing a “wide-set nose.” 

No evidence came forth that linked Castile to the robbery. More troubling is that records show Castile had been pulled over 52 times despite having no felony convictions or history of drunk driving, The Marshall Project notes

Corroborating this study is a widely circulated Stanford University report that also found “significant racial disparities in policing” when reviewing records from 21 state patrol agencies and 29 municipal police departments.

Given the disproportionate levels Black Americans and people of color are targeted by police in routine traffic stops, many activists and protestors have called for police departments to be defunded to prevent these types of violent altercations, with an emphasis on traffic enforcement. 

One instance of this is in Berkeley, Calif. The city council recently weighed a motion to disarm police officers on traffic patrol to avoid fatal encounters seen with Floyd and Castile. 

In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey (D) has come under pressure to make major changes to the police department. Although he does not support the call to abolish the police, he announced earlier this week that he is working with the Minneapolis Police Department to create a mentorship program that better educates officers how to handle traffic stops and altercations. 

“We should not go down the route of simply abolishing the police department,” Frey said. “What we need to see within this department, and within many departments throughout the country, is a full-on culture shift.”

Published on Aug 07, 2020