St. Cloud talks about raceby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Some minority residents in St. Cloud say they're being unfairly targeted by local police. The Council on Black Minnesotans held a public hearing Tuesday night on racial profiling in the city.
St. Cloud, Minn. — Luke Tripp not only organized the public hearing on racial profiling, he also has his own story to tell.
Tripp has been a professor at St. Cloud State University for 18 years. He said last July he was walking in a St. Cloud neighborhood, a book bag on his shoulder, when a police officer in a squad car signaled for him to stop.
"She approached me and said she thought that the bag I was carrying was a purse, suggesting that I was a purse snatcher or a thief," recalled Tripp. "After she stopped, about 40 seconds later another squad car pulled up. I assumed that was her backup."
Tripp was allowed to go about his way shortly after, but he reported the incident to the St. Cloud Police Department as a case of racial profiling.
Of the nearly 300 people who attended the three-hour hearing, a dozen came to the microphone to share similar examples of what they consider unfair treatment or racially motivated bullying by St. Cloud police officers.
Debrah Leigh, a 19-year resident of the city, says she's still not sure why a police officer demanded to see her nephew's ID recently in a St. Cloud restaurant. But Leigh has no doubt it was racial profiling.
"I know the humiliation he suffered on that evening was very painful for him, and it was painful for me. And those kinds of things happen all the time," said Leigh. "Racial profiling in St. Cloud hurts not only the victim of the racial profiling, it goes much further than that. It hurts the families, it hurts the whole community, and all of us are subject to it at any moment, at any time."
St. Cloud, much to the dismay of city leaders, has earned a reputation as a community that doesn't welcome diversity. High profile cases of discrimination at St. Cloud State University in recent years haven't helped the image. It's even resulted in the city attracting the nickname "White Cloud."
But some say St. Cloud doesn't deserve to be singled out as a hotspot of racial tension. Tony Akubue said the problems brought up at the public hearing aren't just St. Cloud's burden.
"I have been the victim of racial profiling, not in St. Cloud, but in Woodbury. Not in St. Cloud, but in St. Paul," said Akubue. "The thing is that if you look for racial profiling, if you look for discrimination, you'll find it anywhere you go."
St. Cloud Police Chief Dennis Ballantine admitted there's probably some racial profiling going on among his officers. And while he said racial bias is unfortunate, he claimed it's no worse in St. Cloud than anyplace else.
Ballantine said the department does its best to prevent profiling, and has worked to hire more minority officers in recent years. But Ballantine said he can't investigate cases of racial profiling if people don't report them.
"Talk to people that they feel comfortable with, or call me and I'll have someone to come to you, so we can talk and have a chance to get this stuff out in the open," said Ballantine.
Some say part of the problem is that cases of racial profiling by police are generally expected to be reported to the police, something victims aren't comfortable with. The Council on Black Minnesotans says that's one part of the process that should be reviewed in St. Cloud.
Council members say they'd like to have another meeting in St. Cloud to discuss solutions to the issues brought up at the public hearing.
- Morning Edition, 10/10/2007, 7:54 a.m.