Minneapolis city officials announced last week that the Police Department will cease sting operations for low-level cannabis offenders. The decision came after recent stings in the city showed significant racial disparity.
Mayor Jacob Frey told local media that Minnesota lawmakers should reassess drug policy and legalize cannabis.
“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. “The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization.”
Frey then directed police Chief Medaria Arradondo to end the sting operations.
Mel Reeves, a Minneapolis human rights activist, welcomed the mayor’s news.
“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.”
Public Defender Sees Racial Bias in Recent Sting
Frey made his decision after Hennepin County chief public defender Mary Moriarty told him the results of recent sting operations. She reported that undercover police officers made 47 felony arrests for marijuana possession during the first five months of 2018. Of those arrested, 46 were black. Police had not approached the only white person they arrested. Instead, that defendant had initiated the contact with undercover officers.
Assistant public defender Jess Braverman reported to the court that undercover officers were blatant in their racial profiling.
“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.”
She also noted that the sting operations “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.”
Moriarity said that the revelations of racial profiling by the police upset her.
“Approaching black men and women who are low income and homeless and then having the county attorney charge them with felony drug sales makes me very angry and disappointed,” she said.
“If you sell one gram of marijuana, it’s a felony drug sale,” Moriarty added. “Do they [Black people] deserve to get felony drug charges simply because they are less fortunate than, say, kids on college campuses?”
Police Chief and Prosecutor Defend Their Departments
Moriarty notified Chief Arradondo of the discovery in a letter she wrote to him last month.
“A review of the cases received by our office strongly suggests a trend of racial profiling under the guise of a ‘livability’ detail,” she wrote.
But the chief defended the actions of his officers. He said that they had acted professionally and did not target people because of their race.
“While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence,” he said.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that his office was also not guilty of racial profiling.
“These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge,” Freeman said. “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.”
Freeman later announced that his office would drop all charges against those arrested in the sting operations.