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MINNEAPOLIS — Black drivers accounted for nearly 80% of police searches and routine traffic stops in predominantly white Minneapolis, according to a public defender’s study using city policy data.

From June 2019 to May 2020, the study found that Black and East African drivers were more often searched when pulled over during equipment or moving violations, with 26% of those searches resulting in arrest, the Star Tribune reported.

“The numbers speak to the volume of Black and brown drivers that are being harassed by police,” said Hennepin County public defender Jay Wong.

After the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, Wong compiled and analyzed one year of traffic data and race in Minneapolis. His goal was to quantify a metric of racial inequality in Minneapolis policing, which his office has witnessed anecdotally for years, he said.

“Of course they feel racially profiled, and many of them are angry about that,” Wong said. “Some clients even feel targeted by specific officers. They know the officers’ names because they get stopped by them over and over.”

Mary Moriarty, chief public defender in Hennepin County, said the higher rate of searches among drivers of color in Minneapolis includes “pretext stops” — stops in which officers use a minor traffic offense as an opening to investigate a driver for contraband or other crimes.

She said her goal is to end pretext stops and consent search, where drivers are likely to consent to a search out of pressure, even though they’re legally allowed to say no.

“Even if drivers are ultimately released without a citation there are dramatic consequences in terms of building trusting relationships with the community and putting a Black driver through this experience,” Moriarty said.

City Council member Steve Fletcher, vice chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, said the data is troubling and raises larger questions about how police treat people of color in other interactions.

Since the killing of Floyd, however, Minneapolis police have dramatically slowed down traffic enforcement, according to the data. Total stops were down about 50% in June and nearly 60% in July compared with last year.

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