Report hints at ‘biking while black’ behind Mpls cyclist stops

A report from the Minneapolis Bike Coalition says black bicyclists are stopped by police more often than their white counterparts.

The report — available here — looked at bicycle-related citations issued between 2009 and 2015.

For simple citations, the report, which acknowledges limited data, says it’s impossible to tell if race and ethnicity played a factor because the Fourth District Court kept only gender information and because the Minneapolis Police Department was not recording race or ethnicity data on their citations.

The top locations for bicycle citations were Nicollet Mall, Hennepin Avenue, and the University of Minnesota.

The group also looked at arrests made as a result of a stop for a bicycle citation and found black riders were more likely to be arrested.

“Both the number of youth involved in CAPRS reports, and the high number of Black juveniles stopped is notable. This data is in line with the ACLU report on low-level offenses and race in which the ACLU found that Black youth in Minneapolis were 5.8 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white youth,” the report said.

In the police narratives found in the CAPRS reports, negative perceptions were more likely assigned to people of color. For example, of the 33 reports coded with the police perceiving the arrestee as “confrontational,” 22 were Black, eight white, one other/mixed, and two unknown.

Descriptives given in reports with Black arrestees included: uncooperative, unruly, intent to commit crime, area as crime-filled, and smelled like weed. These descriptions, written by the police themselves, highlight the racist judgments made about Black people, especially young Black men, and the intent of their actions when they are in public spaces.

For example, descriptions like “confrontational” can be used as excuses to escalate situations and respond in harsher ways towards Black people. The racial undertones of smelling like weed are highlighted by the overrepresentation of people of color being cited and jailed for marijuana offenses despite similar usage rates among white people (ACLU, 2013).

A spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department tells the Star Tribune the department has not had a chance to review the report.

  • Mike Worcester
    • that was mentioned in the report

      • Mike Worcester

        I need to scan these reports more closely rather than just looking at the graphs 🙂

  • John

    Too bad that none of this is surprising.

    I skimmed through the linked report (Too much there to really fully digest in the time I’ve got). I imagine slicing the demographics up is quite difficult. The one that I didn’t find was the breakdown of cyclists by age. I see that a lot of the CAPRS reports are for the 20-29 age bracket. One might think that is high, but since the bulk of the sample comes from areas that are relatively high in people at that age range (also – does that age range constitute the largest percentage of cyclists?), I don’t think it’s out of line.

    Now the riding while black issue . . . that’s a whole different thing. I think it may be even farther out of whack than the numbers show. The graph above shows that only 18% of residents are black, while 48% of the people in CAPRS reports are black. My (unscientific, totally based on my own pedaling around town) observation is that the breakdown of cyclists skews more white than the general population. That would make the CAPRS report on race breakdown even more dramatic than I would have believed from my first glance at it. (Again – I’m willing to be wrong on this. I may not be cycling in a representative area of the city) Does anybody know the racial breakdown for cyclists around Minnepolis?

    • Dr. Melody Hoffmann

      Hi John. We do not know the racial breakdown of cyclists in MPLS b/c the city does not count race/ethnicity in its counts. There are other cities who have managed to do this. One of the suggestions in the report is for the city to start tracking race/ethnicity in the counts. Even though it is not a perfect system it would at least give us some idea about who is biking. American Community Survey data through the Census just talks to people who commute by bike. With that data from a national perspective, working class Latino men ride at a higher rate than other groups.

      • John

        Thanks for weighing in. I had figured as much, re: racial breakdown of cyclists. It was too easy a comparison for you guys to have overlooked :).

  • Gary F

    Go to page 5 of the report under “Findings”

    In short, it’s hard to say. Of the 1,101 simple
    citations obtained, we know that men received
    the most citations (77%) but gender was the
    only demographic data available in the public
    records provided by the 4th District Court.
    In terms of race and ethnicity (the original
    focus of our project), this question is nearly
    impossible to answer because the Minneapolis
    Police Department was not recording race or
    ethnicity data on their citations. According to the
    Star Tribune, the police department has begun
    “tracking the ethnicities and other demographic
    characteristics of drivers and pedestrians
    stopped by its officers” (Jany, 2016).

    • As I said in the post which nobody has read (:*)):

      For simple citations, the report, which acknowledges limited data, says it’s impossible to tell if race and ethnicity played a factor because the Fourth District Court kept only gender information and because the Minneapolis Police Department was not recording race or ethnicity data on their citations.

  • RBHolb

    An African American neighbor of mine is an avid cyclist. He is also (I’m guessing) somewhere in his early to mid-60s. A few days ago, he was showing me his cool new bike. He noted that he always wears a helmet when he rides, theorizing that he is less likely to be suspected of having stolen his bike. He also keeps his ID in a pouch on the handlebars, so when (not if) a cop stops him and asks for ID, no one will think he’s reaching in his pocket for a gun.

    It would never occur to me (a white guy in his late 50s) to take precautions like that.

  • dave

    Starting with blacks ARE in citations more than their population %, the next question before jumping to discrimination is:

    Stopped for real violations or just being black.

    The next question is how often black/whites are NOT cited for the same violation.

    The next question is what was the attitude at the time. “Can I help you, officer” versus
    “you got no call to be pulling me over”. Every officer has the choice to just how much grace to give and confrontational does not get grace from anyone.