Blacks, Native Americans more likely arrested on light rail

Metro Transit promises to correct the ‘problem’

"Hiawatha Line-Government Plaza" by Sinn. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
(Photo by Sinn/Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons)

Metro Transit is now looking at how to improve its policing in light of a recent report that showed Blacks and other people of color overwhelming cited for violations rather than warned, especially for “first-time fare evasion” incidents.

A new Metro Transit study released last month was undertaken in response to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Minneapolis chapter request early last year for 2014-15 police incident data on arrests, citations, or warnings for both juveniles and adults. The ACLU as a result learned that Blacks (4,452) received more than half of the 7,136 arrests and citations for incidents classified as gross misdemeanor or lower between January 2014 and August 2015 compared to 1,712 Whites, 569 Native Americans, 138 Asians and 265 unknown.

According to Metro Transit data, while 17 percent of incidents involving Whites result in arrests, almost 25 percent of incidents involving Blacks and 31 percent of those involving Native Americans result in arrests. Metro Transit officials said the data was also analyzed to see “if there were differences in enforcements of first-time fare evasion procedure across racial groups.”

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington
Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington

Blacks, the data shows are 16 percent more likely to be cited than warned and 38 percent more likely to be arrested rather than warned when compared to Whites. Native Americans are 55 percent more likely to be cited than warned and 93 percent more likely to be arrested than Whites.

Among first-time incidents involving not paying transit fares or “fare evasion,” Blacks are almost 30 percent more likely to be cited than warned than Whites, and Native Americans are at least 152 percent more likely to be cited than warned than Whites. The study could not find any significant differences across racial groups for second-time fare evasion incidents or insufficient data regarding enforcements of juveniles not paying fares.

“We are taking immediate action to address [the findings]. This study tells me that we have a problem,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington in a Metro Transit press release.

NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby
NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby

“We are not talking about violent crimes being committed, or low-level drug offenses, but we are talking about [not paying] $1.75,” noted Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) Executive Director Anthony Newby in an MSR phone interview December 30.

Metro Transit last month announced, among its efforts to address the problem, “ongoing conversations” with local groups on its police force’s policies and procedures, scheduling “impartial policing classes” for all officers, and a new policy Harrington directed to all MTPD officers last month on issuing warnings to all persons not paying its transit fare.

Newby said that NOC should be involved in Metro Transit’s plans to work with community leaders. “They have not reached out, so we will reach out to them. We know we can’t wait until our phone rings,” he said.

The Metro Transit enforcement disparities “is another in a long list, a growing laundry list of disparities that need to be addressed in Twin Cities,” stated Newby. Making public transit more affordable, such as free rides or reduced fares “for all people, and especially for people of color…and find[ing] creative ways to make public transit more accessible” should be examined as well, he said.

He and others met with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton last week. Among the things discussed were ending grand juries, a legislative special session on economic issues affecting Blacks, workers’ rights, and expansion of voting rights, which Newby called 2016’s “bucket [list]” of addressing racial disparities.

“We do not have a current policing model that has the ability to address poverty and the economic disparities that is not punitive and punishing,” Newby pointed out. “A broad community-based approach” to this is needed. “There is an opportunity to pivot from the problem of bad policies and to more creative solutions.”


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