African Americans in Minneapolis are dramatically more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses including marijuana possession, “disorderly conduct,” and vagrancy — and those disparities start young.
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minneapolis found that black juveniles were more than 16.3 times more likely to be arrested for truancy and curfew charges than white juveniles between 2004 and 2012. This figure mirrors disproportionate rates of suspension and other in-school discipline of blacks in the city — a problem the city is moving to address after recent federal intervention.
Criminalizing low-level juvenile behavior in or around school that amounts to disciplinary violations is what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline, and the notion of the phenomenon is that disproportionately minority children are funneled out of the classroom and introduced instead to the criminal justice system, whether through negative police interactions, arrests, and even frequent detention. This has been found to translate to an increase in negative interaction with the police later in life.
And the statistics in Minneapolis bear that out. African Americans in Minneapolis are 11.5 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites in the city. This disparity is among the highest recorded by the ACLU, which gathered national data on marijuana arrests last year. Nationally, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, even though they use pot at about the same rate. And in some places that disparity is dramatically higher. This disparity has increasingly become a driving force for marijuana reform laws, particularly in Washington, D.C., where the ACLU found blacks were 8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot.
The ACLU also notes that the FBI does not report arrest rates for Latinos, meaning the ACLU could not measure disparities for Latinos, and that rate for whites is likely inflated.
Blacks are also 8.86 times more likely than whites to be arrested for disorderly conduct, a catch-all offense that can be used to criminalize a broad range of behavior. And blacks are 7.54 times more likely to be arrested for vagrancy, an offense that is typically associated with homelessness. These are the sorts of offenses that are typically part of a notion of policing known as “broken windows” in which police target minor offenses with the aim of thwarting more significant crime. The problem with broken windows policing is that many of these low-level offenses don’t pose much danger in and of themselves, particularly relative to the danger of police contact, and the potential unfairness of arbitrary enforcement of these offenses.
The ACLU’s study covers the period between 2004 and 2012, and the disparity in several of these categories dropped over the ast several years of the analysis. Still, the disparity between black and white arrests for disorderly conduct was just as great as it had ever been in 2012. And blacks were still almost 7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana in 2012.