The U.S. Justice department report listing civil rights violations by the Minneapolis Police Department confirmed what many in the city’s Native American population say they have experienced and raised some hope for improved treatment.
Little Earth of United Tribes has a long history with police at the Third Precinct where former officer Derek Chauvin was stationed. During the unrest that followed Chauvin’s 2020 murder of George Floyd, Little Earth turned again to community patrols, known as protectors, to fill the safety gap. Protectors found themselves between protestors and law enforcement.
Community organizer Jolene Jones helps to organize the Little Earth protectors. She says police violence toward Native people by police has been an issue for decades.
“We’ve been dealing with it for well over 50 years. And we’ve been telling people.”
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The two-year federal investigation found the Minneapolis Police Department unlawfully discriminates against Black and Native people and has violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. The report cited instances of police violence aimed at those who criticized them and of police unreasonably detaining and searching residents.
The DOJ relied on data collected from MPD between 2016 and 2022, as well as complaints filed by residents.
“In the Third Precinct — where many Native Americans live and where supervisors told us the ‘cowboys’ want to work — MPD used force 49 percent more often during stops involving Black people and 69 percent more often during stops involving Native American people than they did during similar stops involving white people,” the DOJ said.
Federal investigators estimated the “MPD stops Native American people at 7.9 times the rate at which it stops white people, given population shares.”
While the report contained statistical data, some Native American community leaders said the DOJ did not reach out to engage community members or leadership to gain insight into the experience of Native people in their encounters with police over the course of the two-year investigation.
One reason for less anecdotal evidence may have to do with community members not feeling safe in filing a report.
“[The report] explains why we don’t tell our children to go to a cop if you’re in trouble,” says Jolene Jones, “We don’t do that. We don’t call them and record numbers.”
Michelle Gross with Communities United Against Police Brutality helped the DOJ gather data. CUAPB canvassers visited Minneapolis residents at locations throughout the city to ask people to share their written comments to the MPD.
Her organization provided 2,300 written comments from Minneapolis residents. Gross said canvassers recounted “everyday indignities and harassment” shared with them by Native people. Gross says the data her organization has gathered on excessive, lethal use of force tracks with the DOJ findings.
Use of force against youth
The DOJ investigation found that MPD data shows that when police used force with people under the age of 18, it was at a rate 14 times higher for Native American youth than for white youth. In addition, the report also revealed, “[MPD] used force against Black and Native American youth at significant higher rates than against white adults.”
Jones said the experiences of teenagers at Little Earth “are not good.”
“Our young boys … they don’t want to get shot, so they try to follow what they are told to,” Jones said, “Our young girls have been slammed up against walls and told to shut the f — up. They will come up on the scene where the boys are and be like ‘What the hell are you doing? You don’t have a right to do that.’ Our young girls are more vocal, so they tend to get slammed a little bit more or shoved around.”
Mike Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation — a community group that works primarily with housing in South Minneapolis — says the relationship between MPD and the Native community in south Minneapolis has lapsed.
“I couldn’t tell you the names of three police officers in the Third Precinct,” said Goze, “For most people, that’s a problem.”
Goze says he’s aware of police mistreatment of Native people in Minneapolis going back to the beginning of his work in the city in the 1990s. He said the MPD and the city could help by focusing on homelessness in a more positive way.
“I have been really disappointed over the years that they have not ever tried to figure out who the people were. It was like they didn’t want to know, because then they’d have to do something about it,” Goze said.
Long time veteran of community policing and former National Director of the American Indian Movement Frank Paro holds out hope that Minneapolis police and the Native community throughout Minneapolis can re-build a relationship.
“We’ve gone over all the talking points,” a weary Paro said, “So, I just hope the Minneapolis Police department can hear us now.”