The Minneapolis Police Department has decided to put an end to sting operations that target low-level cannabis sales at Mayor Jacob Frey’s request.
Frey directed the police to discontinue its practice of doing undercover operations against small-scale cannabis sellers in the downtown area after it was revealed that black men were disproportionally targeted. It was found that nearly every one that had been arrested from these stings was black.
Moreover, police authorities announced that the charges against 47 individuals that had been arrested this year would be dismissed.
According to police records, drug-related arrests in Minneapolis have already fallen almost two-thirds from 2007 to 2016. However, in recent years, the police stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue to address concerns regarding safety downtown. Using undercover police officers who posed as buyers, 47 people had been arrested for selling cannabis on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.
Hennepin County’s chief public defender, Mary Moriarty, had contacted Frey to complain about what appeared to be blatant racial profiling. According to Moriarty, 46 out of the 47 individuals arrested for selling weed during the sting operations were low-income and black.
Moriarty said that her office represents defendants that were not accused of minor drug offenses. The prosecutors had filed felony charges against them for selling a few joints of pot.
In the state of Minnesota, the possession of less than 42.5 grams of cannabis is a petty misdemeanor, which is the same as a traffic ticket.
By mere virtue of the fact that authorities approached people and purchased one or two grams of pot, those people ended up getting charged with felony drug sale by the county attorney’s office, Moriarty pointed out.
One defendant, she said, had no prior record but was sent to jail after getting caught selling a small quantity of weed. According to her, regardless of what the police officers did, the county attorney’s office never should have filed felony charges.
Mayor and county attorney address Moriarty’s complaint
As a result of Moriarty’s allegations, Frey directed Chief Medaria Arradondo to discontinue the stings.
Frey said in a statement that he strongly believes cannabis should be a lowest-level enforcement priority. He also stressed his belief that cannabis should be legalized fully at state level.
The fact that racial disparities are common throughout the country in the enforcement of cannabis laws is one reason why he supports full legalization.
Meanwhile, at a news conference on Thursday, Arradondo acknowledged that while violent crime within a targeted two-block area downtown has dropped almost a third compared to the first few months the year before, the police department’s undercover officers had arrested dozens of African-Americans for selling even small quantities of weed.
According to Arradondo, they took a look back, analyzed the cases, and saw that a segment of the population was being affected disproportionately.
Arradondo, however, clarified that blacks were not targeted and police officers have acted in a manner that is procedurally just.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, on the other hand, stated that he has already dismissed, diverted, or sought stays of adjudication in one-fourth of the cases and that he is already in the process of dismissing the rest.
Freeman also said that he has taken immediate steps after he learned about the situation.
People applaud mayor’s move
The police department’s announcement paves the way toward a more lenient approach, which is pursued in other major cities in the U.S.
Moriarty applauded Frey’s order for police to end the low-level cannabis stings.
John Gordon, American Civil Liberties Union in Minnesota executive director, also praised the move.
According to Gordon, they are hopeful that this attitude will spread to other types of low-level arrests that contribute to the disparities in the country’s criminal justice system. He said that they continue to look at these disparities and to work with the city and with all levels of government in order to address racial bias.