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The Color of Justice: Documenting Discrimination
By Amy Radil
August 11, 2000
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St. Paul residents testified on August 8 about their perceptions of racial profiling, describing traffic stops and other police actions they perceived to be racially motivated, and on August 10th, Minneapolis residents had their turn. The public hearings were held by the Twin Cities chapters of the Urban League and the NAACP, as a law enforcement task force develops a legislative proposal to study racial profiling statewide. Those conducting the hearings say they hope residents' voices will play a role in shaping the legislation, and say they may also play a role in potential lawsuits.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS kept a low profile as Minneapolis residents, most of them African-American, let off steam about their encounters with police and complained of being pulled over and treated with excessive force, in part because of their race. Officials with the Twin Cities chapters of the Urban League and the NAACP say the testimony provided will be used as evidence of racial profiling by police, to help shape future attempts to study it. Marlene Lynch, who is African-American, described being stopped by police after someone saw her husband, who is white, hand her $5 in a fast-food restaurant.

"They take all of his papers, his license, his everything. They put him in handcuffs, they put him in the car. Yes he's white but he has a black wife. They just keep going with this and finally they say, 'You know, it was called in as a drug transaction,'" Lynch recalled.

A white couple, Ardys and Dan Sabin, said at the hearing they had just helped resolve a dispute between two young black men and a white neighbor when the police arrived. The Sabins say they watched in disbelief as police took one of the young men away, without asking anyone what had happened or answering any questions. Ardys says her husband exclaimed that police were only acting that way because the young man was black.

"And that other young man, his eyes glazed over, he didn't start crying but his eyes glazed over and he whispered in almost a croak, just eye to eye contact with my husband, 'Thank you.' It was, somebody is acknowledging that this is really happening," Ardys Sabin said.

Hennepin County Chief Public Defender William McGee says people who believe they're experiencing racial profiling must "watch the watchers," and report those incidents. McGee established a hotline for people to call, and says the public testimony recorded on the hotline and at the hearings will be used to make the case for reform. He says a lawsuit is also a possibility.

"One of the things that we are contemplating, if the data shows, is some kind of litigation. That there are both state and federal laws that prohibit the kind of actions that are taking place. But one of the things that happens in these instances unless you have recorded information, it's like trying to get your hands on Jell-O ™."

"They take all of his papers, his license, his everything. They put him in handcuffs, they put him in the car. Yes he's white but he has a black wife."

- Marlene Lynch
The testimony will also be sent to a law enforcement task force looking at how to monitor racial profiling statewide. Law enforcement officials expect to release recommendations in November, which will be used to create a legislative proposal to be considered when the Legislature convenes in January. Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who responded to some of the comments at the hearing, says she believes racial profiling exists in the Minneapolis Police Department, and says she and the department are working on solutions. She says she welcomes the work of the task force in figuring out the best way to address the problem.

"Is the strategy education, is the strategy specific and identified penalties established by the state of Minnesota for racial profiling? Is it a crime? I mean I don't know where they're going with the legislation, I just know that they believe that it's important for the state of Minnesota to affirm that it takes place, that it is wrong and that it will not be tolerated," Sayles Belton said.

Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments have initiated studies to monitor racial profiling.