Cloud of suspicion pervasive, young metro-area blacks say

  • Article by: RANDY FURST
  • Star Tribune
  • April 15, 2012 - 9:59 PM

For many black teenagers and young men in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the story of Trayvon Martin hits close to home. They believe they are subjects of suspicion while walking the streets, waiting at bus stops, driving or going to stores.

Interviews with more than a score of youthful Twin Cities black males elicited a common theme. Almost everyone related an incident in which they believe they were singled out and stopped by a police officer because they were black.

George Zimmerman, 28, awaits trial in the Feb. 26 death of Martin, 17, a black teenager who was walking home through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., when he was shot and killed.

"I get pulled over all the time," said John Davis, 26, of Minneapolis, who works in customer service at Comcast. He said he was recently stopped by a Minneapolis police officer because he had a light out on his license plate. Asked if he thought he was pulled over because he was black, Davis said, "There's no doubt about it."

Osman Ahmed, 24, said he was recently pulled over by Minneapolis police as he neared his home at 24th St. and Nicollet Avenue around 10 p.m. for having on the high beams of his headlights. He said police searched him but found nothing. "I don't think if I was white I'd be treated that way," he said.

Peirre Conwell, 16, who is black and lives on St. Paul's East Side, said he has been stopped by police on the street about 15 times, mostly on summer nights. Conwell, a student at Johnson High School, said one recent night, an officer pulled up on the sidewalk, got out and shook what appeared to be a can of a chemical irritant to indicate he might spray him.

Conwell said he believes the officer thought he was selling drugs. He wasn't. Said Conwell: "I went home."

Carl Lobley, 17, a Washburn High School senior, said he stares at the ground when police officers stop him so they won't see how angry he is at being singled out. He said he worries he'll get arrested if he shows what he's feeling.

Jerry Graffunder, 18, of south Minneapolis, who is black, said he and his friends recently were followed by an officer as they walked to a bus stop near Southdale. A police officer got out to question them. "He asked, 'What are you up to?'" said Liivan Haile, 19. "We knew we had done nothing wrong."

The two young men said they try to keep from getting stopped by avoiding dark clothing, shirts with gang colors or pulled-up hoodies.

Young black men also complain that they are treated unfairly at bar closing time in downtown Minneapolis.

Mike Sanders, 23, of Minneapolis, said he was standing outside a bar on a recent weekend night with two black friends, waiting for another friend to emerge from a separate bar so they could go home. Sanders, who is black, said they were not making any noise, but a cop walked up to them and said, "If you don't move on, I'll book you for disorderly conduct."

Sanders said the officers did not say the same thing to boisterous whites who were standing nearby. Sanders and his friends left.

"I don't usually let it bother me," he said. "Just suck it up and let it go."

Mike Hunter, 15, of Shakopee, who is black, recalls leaving a Target store in Shakopee when a white person ran out the door, setting off alarms. Hunter was with a black friend. "The security [guard] didn't stop the white person, he stopped me," Hunter said. "I was searched. I don't think it was fair."

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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