Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, June 8, 2018

Telling modern Minneapolis tale of minor marijuana enforcement still flush with racial disparity

Ows_152840735539363The Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, became the city's first African-American "top cop" last year.   But, as reported in this new local story, the city still has been involved in a remarkable form of disparate policing in its marijuana enforcement.  The piece is headlined "Minneapolis cops halt low-level marijuana stings after racial disparity revealed: All charges dropped after reports show 46 of 47 arrested were black," and here are the details:

Minneapolis police abruptly ended the practice of targeting small-scale marijuana sellers downtown after revelations that nearly every one arrested was black.  In a series of rushed announcements Thursday, authorities said that police would no longer conduct sting operations targeting low-level marijuana sales, and charges against 47 people arrested in the first five months of 2018 would be dismissed.

The extraordinary turnaround came after Hennepin County's chief public defender contacted Mayor Jacob Frey to complain about what looked like blatant racial profiling.  Frey then directed Chief Medaria Arradondo to stop the stings. "I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said in a statement Thursday.  "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."...

[I]n recent years, Minneapolis police have stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about safety downtown.  Using undercover officers posing as buyers, they arrested 47 people for selling marijuana on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.

The Hennepin County Public Defender's office determined that 46 of those arrested were black.  All were charged as felonies.  Some were put in diversion programs, some were convicted and at least one man went to prison.  "Almost all of those cases involve a sale of 1-2 grams of marijuana for a total of $10-$20," assistant county public defender Jess Braverman wrote in a May 31 court document....

Arradondo announced Thursday in a 12:30 p.m. news conference that he had discontinued stings targeting low-level marijuana sales at the request of Frey.  "While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence," he said.  He said that during the downtown police effort, officers arrested other people who were in possession of illegal guns and other drugs such as opioids, although that was separate from the marijuana arrests.

Arradondo defended his officers, saying they were acting professionally and not targeting black people because of their race.  A police spokesman said that while the undercover stings were being stopped, police would still make arrests for marijuana sales.

At 3 p.m., Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a news release that said he had informed Arradondo that he would not charge any more people arrested in the stings and that he was reviewing the remaining cases.  An hour later, his office notified [Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary] Moriarty that all the cases were being dismissed. "These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge," Freeman said in a statement. "Because they occurred over a period of months and were distributed to about a half-dozen of our attorneys for prosecution, we did not detect any pattern."...

In a court document, Braverman wrote that the arrests "have resulted in felony convictions for numerous black defendants who had been targeted, and all the devastating collateral consequences that go along with such convictions: jail time, prison time, and even deportation proceedings."

Details about the stings were described in a case involving the arrest of one suspect, Shauntez Palmer, who was charged with fifth degree sale of 1.6 grams of marijuana. An undercover officer stated in her report that she purchased marijuana from another person, Ameir Davis on Hennepin Avenue between N. 5th Street and N. 6th Street, while Palmer acted as a lookout.  Both men were arrested and brought to jail....

"On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals and groups, and asking to buy drugs," Braverman wrote.  "Officers have directly asked black men to facilitate drug deals with other black men, and have then requested that the facilitator be charged with sale.  They are submitting the cases for felony charges."  Moriarty said that the only white person arrested was not approached by police, but had himself approached an undercover officer about selling some marijuana.

In a letter to Arradondo on May 29, Moriarty wrote, "A review of the cases received by our office strongly suggests a trend of racial profiling under the guise of a 'livability' detail."

Mel Reeves, a human rights activist who lives in Minneapolis, said he was cheered by the decision to halt the stings. "It's not news that black people are targeted by law enforcement on marijuana charges," he said. "It's good news they are recognizing the disparities and doing something about it."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/06/telling-modern-minneapolis-tale-of-minor-marijuana-enforcement-still-flush-with-racial-disparity.html

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink

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