A Long Look in the Mirror

The ACLU this week has released a case study on policing in Minneapolis.  The analysis of data is thorough in its scope, and compelling in its conclusions: the enforcement of the law in Minneapolis is profoundly racist.  You truly must read the entire thing.  Here's the headline quote that's ricocheting all over social media right now: 

During the 33 months that this study covers, the Minneapolis Police Department made 96,975 low-level arrests. That’s almost 100 low-level arrests per day. Overall, Black people were 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people, and Native Americans were 8.6 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people.

In addition to its analysis of arrest data, the report puts forth a lengthy list of recommendations for improvement.  The recommendations are all important.  But it's what was missing from the recommendations that caught my attention.  While there are recommendations for addressing the manifestations of the racism of White people, the report makes almost no recommendations for addressing the White people themselves.  In other words, the recommendations are almost exclusively focused on structural racism.

Similarly, in reaction to the report, I've seen a steady stream of sanctimonious White people leap aboard their high horses to condemn the police department, with no concomitant condemnation of our own complicity in that system of policing.  So I'm calling on myself and my fellow White folks to dismount those horses for a minute.  Because this system, which so many of us are decrying, is ours.  

In March, the Minneapolis Police Department released their own data assessment of arrests.  That report unsurprisingly confirmed disparities in arrest rates for people of color.  But it did something more than that (which I tweeted about at the time).  The report not only confirmed that  Black people were disproportionately targeted for low-level arrests, but that for many of the subjective offenses like loitering, the police were most often CALLED BY WHITE PEOPLE.

As White residents, we have to come to terms with what these data mean about us.  It's not simply the case that Minneapolis Police officers disproportionately show up to harass Black people for low-level offenses on their own.  They go because we call them and ask them to.  If we as White people are dispatching the police in a way that causes disproportionate police contact for people of color, we should not feign such surprise or righteous indignation at the resulting disparities in arrests.

All of this is part of a much larger system, and must be part of a broader effort to embrace the truth about race and power in the Twin Cities (a subject I've written about before).

If all (or even just a majority) of White Minneapolis residents stood up tomorrow and demanded an end to racist policing policies and practices, they'd be gone in time for the State Fair.  The problem is we haven't actually decided we want that yet.

Policing functions to maintain the status quo, and in Minneapolis, the status quo is awfully comfortable for a lot of us White folks.  You'll often hear people talk about "good" neighborhoods and "bad" neighborhoods, the ascription of which correlates directly with the proportion of residents of color.  

All- or nearly-all-White neighborhoods don't stay all-White (and thus "good") on their own.  We use lending institutions to maintain the status quo.  Just this week, Associated Bank agreed to a $200 million federal settlement for failing to provide home loans to people of color here in Minnesota.

We use social pressure to maintain the status quo.  My snow-White neighborhood in Southwest Minneapolis is full of liberal and progressive lawn signs in October and November, but I can't tell you the number of times I've seen someone on neighborhood.com post an alert about a "suspicious person" when they see a Black or Brown person on the block.

And we use the police to maintain the status quo.  We call them disproportionately to shake down people of color for loitering.   We deploy coded language to our children about police and "bad neighborhoods"  (when we simultaneously frame some neighborhoods as "bad" and the police as our protectors, it doesn't take much to infer what and whom the police are protecting us from).  We support police efforts to move the homeless out of downtown--to where, exactly, we don't much care.  And we endorse, through explicit support or implicit silence, racist policing practices.

If we wanted it to be so, White people could stand up and end these systems.  But instead we tolerate the targeted harassment of people of color with "lurking" laws.  We accept a police department made of 94% non-Minneapolis residents.  We tsk-tsk ACLU reports, but take no action.

If we White folks truly want to make a change, we have work to do.  And it starts with us.  We need to understand how our own fragility often prevents us from even engaging in conversations about racial justice.  We need to think about how we are calling out problematic behavior, but also calling in fellow White people to push ourselves to be more just.  We need to show up and demand an end to racist laws like lurking and spitting, and demand accountability in police practices.

Lest I get too self-righteous myself (though it may be too late for that), I count myself squarely among those White people perpetuating systems of racial oppression in our community.  I don't stand up enough.  I don't show up enough.  I'm going to do better, and I'm grateful for everyone who has and continues to call me out and call me in when I'm being problematic along the way.  As movements for justice continue and many of us White folks continue to seek the ways we can best support them, I'm committing to pausing before saddling up my high horse and taking a long look in the mirror.

I'm going to close with a tweet written by @AfrikaAF after the MPD released their data in March, because while I've taken several hundred words to try to make my point, I think Ali pretty well sums up this entire issue in under 140 characters: