Minneapolis Police Department Spied on Black Leaders - Rolling Stone
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Racist Minneapolis Cops Spied on Black Leaders While Ignoring White Hate Groups

A state civil rights probe has uncovered a “pattern of race discrimination” and a rotten culture at the Minneapolis PD

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 16: Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Art Knight speaks with people gathered near a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under increased scrutiny by residents and elected officials after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 16: Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Art Knight speaks with people gathered near a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under increased scrutiny by residents and elected officials after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

A Minneapolis police officer, on June 16, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Minneapolis Police Department turned a blind eye to white nationalists and white supremacy movements online, even as its officers created fake social media accounts to surveil and troll law-abiding Black community members “without a public safety objective.”

That’s just one of dozens of shocking revelations from a two-year investigation by the state government’s top civil rights enforcement agency, which found that the Minneapolis police “engage in a pattern or practice of race discrimination.” 

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights launched the probe days after the police murder of George Floyd in late spring of 2020. The agency examined more than 700 hours of body camera footage, nearly half a million pages of police documents and use-of-force reports, dozens of hours of police training sessions, ten years of police data, and the results of 15 community listening sessions. 

The findings are distilled in a blistering 72-page report that brims with evidence of MPD’s discriminatory policing. The report blasts city leadership that has allowed the department’s culture “to fester” enabling “unlawful policing practices that undermine public safety.”

Racist Language

The problems at MPD begin with vile language from cops. The report blasts MPD officers who “consistently” use racist language and slurs. “They call Black individuals ‘n***ers’ and ‘monkeys’ and call Black women ‘Black bitches,’” the report reads, adding: “One MPD supervisor referred to Somali men as ‘orangutans.’” The racism was even directed at MPD officers of color, who “reported that their colleagues called fellow Black MPD officers ‘nappy head’ and ‘cattle.’”

The report also calls out the stark misogyny of Minneapolis cops, who demean women in the community with epithets like “‘fucking cunt,’ ‘bitch,’ and ‘cussy,’ a derogatory term that combines the words ‘cunt’ and ‘pussy,’” the report says.

Such abusive language from the police, “undermines the criminal justice system,” the report says, citing local prosecutors who find it challenging to use police body camera footage in court “because of how disrespectful and offensive MPD officers are to criminal suspects, witnesses, and bystanders.”

Despite this glaring lack of professionalism, the report notes that MPD officers are trained to demand “unquestioned compliance” from members of the public — and often cite citizens for “obstruction” or “disorderly conduct” for behavior that should rightfully be characterized as “pissing off the police.” 

Racist Violence

The department’s racist language correlates to racist actions that have put lives at risk, investigators found. MPD cops use disproportionate force against Black residents, who make up just 19 percent of the city population but were subject to “63% of all use of force incidents that MPD officers recorded,” the report details. 

To control for factors other than race, investigators looked at the MPD’s practice of using neck restraints — which are now forbidden — on Black and white suspects since 2010. It found that “MPD officers [were] almost twice as likely to use neck restraints against Black individuals than white individuals in similar circumstances.”

Racist Stops and Searches

Black Minneapolis drivers are also stopped by police vastly out of proportion to their share of the population, accounting for 54 percent of traffic stops. To control for other factors than race, investigators monitored traffic stops just before sunset, when drivers would be visible to cops, and after, when darkness would obscure the occupants’ race. The result? “MPD officers were 12 percent more likely to stop a vehicle occupied by a person of color… when it was light outside,” the report states.

MPD’s searches of cars during traffic stops, the investigators found, are also racially biased. Black drivers accounted for 78 percent of cars searched by MPD. Controlling for other factors, cops searched the cars of Black drivers nearly twice as often as white drivers.

“Covert Social Media”

One of the most disturbing revelations from the investigation is how MPD officers have routinely used fake social media profiles to infiltrate Black online spaces — even though they were acting “without a public safety objective.” 

The report describes these rogue cops spying on, and often trolling, prominent local Black leaders and organizations, without any suspicion of criminal activity. In particular, investigators describe how “MPD officers used fake social media accounts to gain access to … social media profiles of Black groups and organizations, such as the NAACP and Urban League.” 

The fake MPD social media posts often expressed bigotry, using language “to further racial stereotypes associated with Black people,” the report says. One fake account posed as “a Black community member” and sent “a message to a local branch of the NAACP, criticizing the group.”

The political context here is essential, as the local NAACP has long been critical of the MPD and pressed for policing reforms. “They used taxpayer money and ‘valuable’ officer time to surveil and troll the Minneapolis NAACP when we were trying to end police misconduct,” the organization said in a statement responding to the report. 

A Blind Eye To White Supremacist Threats

The report makes plain that this covert surveillance was targeted specifically at law abiding Black people — and that MPD made no similar effort to surveil “white supremacist or white nationalist groups,” the report states. 

This remained true despite the fact that one of the most audacious acts of violence against MPD during the unrest after Floyd’s killing was perpetrated by a white Boogaloo Boi, who shot 13 rounds from an AK-47 into the department’s third precinct on May 28, 2020. (Ivan Harrison Hunter has since pleaded guilty to a federal riot charge.)

Two nights later, on May 30, Mayor Jacob Frey warned that white supremacists were infiltrating Minneapolis to “destabilize our city.” An MPD supervisor was caught on body cam that night insisting he wanted to “prove the mayor wrong” about white supremacists — before making a racist comment about the makeup of the protesters in the street:

Notorious Incidents

The civil rights report highlights police misconduct in several violent incidents that have been chronicled in Rolling Stone. It points to MPD’s protester “hunting” scandal, in which officers cruised the city in an unmarked van taking pot-shots at racial justice protesters with less-lethal rounds, as an example of negligent policing and a failure to uphold department standards. “An officer should have intervened while other officers inappropriately used force,” the report states.

The investigators also rebuke the department’s deceitful PR in the wake of the killing of Amir Locke, a bystander shot and killed by a SWAT team executing a pre-dawn, no-knock raid of the apartment where Locke was sleeping. 

“MPD repeatedly referred to Mr. Locke, who was not a suspect, as a suspect, and released pictures to further paint Mr. Locke as a suspect,” the report says. “This type of inaccurate information sows community distrust, creates confusion, and undermines meaningful attempts of change.”

Failed Leadership

The report is unsparing in its rebuke of city leaders it says have been aware of the “deep organizational culture problems within the MPD” that have resulted “in the long-standing, disproportionate impact of race-based policing.” These leaders, the report says, have failed to act with the “necessary urgency” — leaving the rot at the core of MPD “unchecked.”

Without naming the recently re-elected Frey, who leads civilian oversight of MPD, the report states that the mayor has claimed not to “have the necessary authority … to manage the police department.” The report insists this is false: “The Mayor has held this power for decades.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Frey — who is quick to mirror public disgust in moments when the bureau’s worst behavior is under the spotlight, but has dragged his feet on reform — called the findings “repugnant” and “at times horrific” adding, “they made me sick to my stomach.” Frey vowed he was now “dead serious” in leading a culture shift, while insisting, “our black community deserves better.”

(The interim MPD police chief, at the same conference, said the department was still reviewing the report but acknowledged that the “points raised are deeply concerning.”)

What’s Next?

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said that the investigation paints an “unsettling picture” of Minneapolis law enforcement, while underscoring that “race-based policing is unlawful and harms everyone – sometimes costing community members their lives.” 

Insisting that city leaders have the power to “make immediate changes,” Lucero also vowed that deeper reform was coming — in the form of an “unprecedented” consent decree that her agency will craft with the city to prevent ongoing violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. That consent decree will be divorced from daily politics, enforceable by a judge, and require sustained monitoring of MPD.

Longtime critics of the MPD were not surprised by the report’s findings. But Eric Rice, a local attorney who has attempted to hold the department accountable for its violence, says he’s gratified to see the department’s racist practices called out “in an official document supported by objective evidence.”

Rice insists that promises of reform by Frey and the department have yielded few results in the two years since Floyd’s murder. “The culture is either as bad or worse than it has ever been,” he says. “There have been so many additional incidents that show that nothing has changed.”

Rice is skeptical of the power of a consent decree to fundamentally overhaul the culture of the department. “We all have a responsibility to not let this remain the status quo,” he adds. “These findings cannot be tolerated.”

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