How Minneapolis Police Use “Lurking” Laws To Harass Blacks

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Do Minneapolis police use “lurking” laws to harass blacks? Yes, said many people who attended a community meeting about repealing the laws; several had personally experienced the harassment.

“I’ve been a victim of the lurking ordinance,” said an African-American man at the meeting.
“The cop demanded we get in the squad car, told us somebody had reported a black guy and a Latino guy prowling cars. And there were no cars anywhere except the one we drove in. And my friend was a white guy just had dark hair. So this type of shit happens every day.

“I’ve been pulled over 48 times and I have no criminal record. I know that these cops are looking for reasons to arrest people because of the police culture where they measure effectiveness based on the quantity of arrests as opposed to the quality.”

A younger African-American man had a similar story.

“I’ve never been arrested, charged or tried for any sort of serious crime, not even a disorderly conduct. I’ve never been in a fight in my life. I’ve never been hit in my face. I’ve never hit anybody else in the face. I’ve been in prison — or not in prison, in jail — on three separate occasions for petty traffic laws and on each occasion I’ve had to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and go back to court numerous times.

“Because I’ve been profiled and pulled over for a broken taillight when I had red tape on my taillight, which actually allows me to legally drive with it. And the cop said nope, your tape is dull and I can see clearly through it. So I’m going to pull you over right? And I get these stupid tickets that drastically impact my ability to parent, my ability to work, my ability to be a community member, my ability to be the person that I hope to be in my life.”

Ron Harris, an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, told a story about how he was door-knocking for Senator Al Franken last fall when he was a target of the lurking ordinance. “I was in a part of Minneapolis where there’s not a lot of folks who look like me. I was doing a little bit of door knocking. And all of a sudden I hear ‘whoop whoop’. And I’m like ‘not today, not today’. And so I kept on going. And the cop pulls me over when I was on foot and said ‘ah sir, we hear some reports of some suspicious activities and lurking going on in the neighborhood.’ And I’m, ‘really, what do they look like? Let me know.”

The crowd at laughed knowingly at Harris’ story.

Harris sees the lurking laws as a part of a bigger problem with the entire criminal justice system, which he says used to be about preventing crime and punishing criminals. “Since the war on drugs and the last few decades it’s now turned into control and management of the dispossessed.”

Minneapolis City Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang organized the meeting at Matthews Park to talk about their desire to repeal what they call “New Jim Crow” laws that police use disproportionately against minorities and the poor.

Video at top: personal stories of police harassment.
Video below: Blong Yang and Cam Gordon explain why the change is needed in Minneapolis law

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In calling the meeting, Gordon wrote on Facebook:

I favor repeal of these ordinances because they are outdated, poorly crafted, unnecessary, ineffective and contribute to persistent racial and economic disparities in our city. While they are problematic each in their own way, I am most interested in repealing them because of the subtle role they both play in supporting a biased, unfair criminal justice system that, perhaps unintentionally or inadvertently, contributes to and perpetuates the significant racial disparities we find in Minneapolis today, and in our country. The meeting is co-convened by myself, CM Yang, the Coalition for Critical Change, Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and others. I hope that the effort to repeal these rarely enforced ordinances might help us all engage in a deeper discussion about justice, public safety, institutional racism, the role authority figures play in the racialization of our young and how vastly different we experience life in Minneapolis depending on our race and economic status.

You can watch a video replay of the entire meeting here.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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