Survey: Black Minnesotans have far less trust in police than white residents do

The APM Research Lab survey includes more than 1,000 Minnesotans of color who answered questions about their views of the criminal justice system.

A black and white mural of a man.
A mural of George Floyd at 38th and Chicago.
Christine T. Nguyen for MPR News 2020

More than a year after racial justice protests broke out after a white police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis, a new survey shows that Black, Indigenous and people of color often have less trust in the system than their white neighbors.

The divide is especially stark when it comes to the levels of trust Black and white Minnesotans have in the police. The survey by APM Research Lab, which is owned by MPR News’ parent company American Public Media, found that only one in five Black Minnesotans trust the police to do what’s right, compared to more than 70 percent of white Minnesotans. 

A bar graph showing differences in trust in police by race.
Survey respondents were asked the question: “Generally speaking, how much of the time do you think you can trust the police in Minnesota to do what is right?” This graph shows proportion indicating “just about always” plus “most of the time.”
APM Research Lab

Kina Williams, a Black resident of St. Cloud, said being followed by police officers or pulled over is a different experience for Black drivers.  

“A Caucasian person, they think, ‘I'm being pulled over, it's help’” Williams said. “But if we’re pulled over we’re a little apprehensive, and I do feel a little fearful because you don’t know if things are going to escalate.”

Williams said she believes individual officers aren't to blame for racial inequities. 

"I don't think that the police are bad, they do have some good cops and some bad cops,” she said. “I think that overall it's the system itself — it's not really the police that are the problem."

Bradley Bayers is white and lives in the suburb of Hugo, but grew up in south Minneapolis. He said he had some run-ins with police in his youth, but now chalks that up to his immaturity. He said he mostly trusts police. 

“I guess I have no reason not to, these people are there to protect and serve,” Bayers said. “When I dial 911, they’re the same people that show up.” 

The survey also found that about three-quarters of Indigenous and people of color in the state believe police discriminate against members of their racial or ethnic group.

Liliana Zaragoza, a civil rights attorney who identifies as Mexican American and Chicana, said she understands why people from diverse backgrounds might have different experiences with police. 

“A white respondent to the survey, they might say, 'Yeah I’m treated fairly by police,'” Zaragoza said. “But they might not connect that with other groups not being treated fairly by police.”

The survey includes nearly 400 Asian American Minnesotans — the majority of whom identify as Hmong. About 60 percent of Minnesotans of Asian descent said in the survey that they trusted police to do the right thing. But about the same number also said they believed police discriminated regularly against Asian Americans. 

Heather Moenck, who identifies as biracial with Korean heritage, said the stereotype of Asians as a "model minority" might skew how they see law enforcement. She said police brutality against Asian and Pacific Islander people isn’t talked about openly. 

“In the Asian community, it’s really big — saving face, don’t be too much of an agitator — those are things that are really promoted,” Moenck said. “So I could also see it being a higher number than I’d hope it being, just because the harm is being under-communicated.”

The survey also found that many Black, Indigenous and people of color didn’t feel safe walking in their own neighborhoods at night. Geraldine Tan, who is from Singapore and lives in St. Paul, said high-profile attacks on Asian Americans have been on her mind when she goes out. 

“I would be very careful, who would I lock eyes with when I go out? Just pretty much stay in my lane, just playing it really safe,” Tan said. “I hate to live like that, but I felt like I had to for my own safety and security because you don’t know who is going to turn around and do something crazy.”

The survey also found that only about ten percent of Black and indigenous Minnesotans thought members of their racial group were treated equitably by the state's courts. 

Angela Humphrey, who is Black, said some police officers she has dealt with were rude for no reason. She said she’s also faced discrimination even trying to open up a bank account. 

“I’ve had experiences where their attitude is already biased against you,” she said. 

Leah Yellowbird, who is American Indian and lives in Grand Rapids, said some of the state's institutions have deep roots in racism, pointing to the fact that it was in the mid-80s that the final American Indian Residential School was closed. Native students were taken from their families and sent to the schools where they were forced to abandon their culture and languages. 

Yellowbird said it seems like power sometimes goes to police officers' heads. She remembers police officers interacting with the public differently when she was growing up in a small town. 

“It was kind of more supportive of the community,” she said. “I think it turned a little more military.”

The survey was conducted with more than 1,500 Minnesotans and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

What experiences impact your view of police?

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