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MPR: Minneapolis clergy concerned about racial profiling
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About a dozen African-American ministers met Friday to express their concerns about racial profiling in Minneapolis. (MPR Photo/Toni Randolph)

Minneapolis clergy concerned about racial profiling

by Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
July 28, 2006

The Minneapolis Park Police chief got an earful about racial profiling from members of the Twin Cities African-American clergy Friday. About a dozen black ministers sounded off on the issue in a meeting at a Minneapolis church. The meeting came a week after one pastor complained he was subjected to racial profiling at a city park.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Rev. Terry Williams says he visits Lake Calhoun several times a week. But his visit last Thursday was more than memorable.

Williams says he was detained briefly by Park Police, with assistance from the Minneapolis Police Department, in an incident he claims had overtones of racial profiling. Racial profiling refers to using race as a factor in deciding whether to place someone under suspicion.

Williams says he'd parked his car and was stretching on the grass nearby while he chatted on his cell phone. That's when, he says, a Park Police officer, who had already driven by him twice, approached him.

"She pulls up next to my vehicle, which she did not know belonged to me, and got out of the car, walked around to the back of the car and stood there and says, 'You need to come over to my vehicle,'" Williams recalls.

I don't believe it was racial profiling. I believe it was behavior profiling, based on other cases that we've had in the recent past.
- Minneapolis Park Police Chief Brad Johnson

Williams says he asked the officer why, but she did not explain. He says she asked him if he owned his vehicle and if he had identification. He says he was also warned that if he didn't cooperate, the officer would call for backup, which she did.

Williams says about a half dozen Minneapolis police cars showed up, and for a short time he was detained in the back of a squad car. He was eventually released. But Williams says what happened to him has happened to others.

"There are people, within my congregation and many other congregations, who have been outraged, and my congregation in particular is outraged about this," says Williams. "Some of the other pastors' people are outraged about this because it is not just an insolated incident. This is something that happens all the time."

About a dozen black Twin Cities ministers who attended the meeting agreed, relaying their own personal encounters with Minneapolis police, and similar incidents that have happened to members of their congregations.

A Police Community Relations Council was established three years ago in Minneapolis to address racial profiling, among other issues. But racial profiling has not been an issue about which Park Police have had many complaints.

In fact, Park Police Chief Brad Johnson told the ministers that he believes what happened to Rev. Williams was an isolated incident.

"I don't believe it was racial profiling. I believe it was behavior profiling, based on other cases that we've had in the recent past," says Johnson. "I think the biggest problem is probably communication, and not explaining to you why she stopped you, why she was there."

Johnson says a number of cars have been broken into at Lake Calhoun, and Williams' behavior fit the profile of tag-team crooks who've been operating in the park. Park police say about two to three cars a day are broken into, sometimes by thieves communicating by cell phone.

Johnson says the officer had arrested a white male the week before, based on similar behavior. He says he hasn't spoken to her about this incident, but says she probably could have communicated with Williams better.

"Should she have said why she was stopping you? Absolutely, she should have," Johnson says. "She should have been forthright and said, 'This is why I'm stopping you. I just need to ask a couple of questions and clear it up.' Answer the questions, you're on your way. No problem."

Johnson says he'd like to meet with Williams privately about the matter. He also urged people who encounter Park Police just to answer their questions, and complain later if they feel they've been mistreated.

The group of clergy objected to the advice. They say by the chief's standard, anyone on a cell phone could be forced to answer questions at any time.

Meanwhile, the ministers plan a communitywide meeting next Monday to address racial profiling, which they say is a citywide problem.


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