DULUTH – Local activists are demanding change from the Police Department here after a data analysis revealed that people of color are involved in use-of-force incidents and arrested at disproportionately higher rates than white residents in the city.
Nonwhite residents make up 10% of Duluth's population, but half of individuals involved in use-of-force incidents in 2019 were people of color, according to Duluth Police Department (DPD) data.
Duluth arrests between 2017 and October 2020 also show a wide racial disparity, according to additional data obtained by LEAN Duluth, a grassroots network calling for police reform.
Among the more than 23,600 arrests made in that time, 16% involved Black people and 13% were Native Americans. Black residents comprise 2.3% of Duluth's total population, and Indigenous residents make up 1.6%. Those who identify as two or more races are 4.1% of the population, census data show.
"The Duluth Police Department has engaged in years of racially biased policing against Black, Indigenous and other people of color," Classie Dudley, president of the Duluth branch of the NAACP, said at a news conference Friday.
"By December of 2022, we expect DPD use of force and arrest rates to be proportionate to the racial demographics of our region," the Duluth NAACP said in a statement.
Treasure Jenkins, a community organizer who has lived in Duluth for 25 years, said in an interview that she regularly hears stories from Black community members — particularly younger men — who are "hassled by police" or face aggressive behavior from officers.
Jenkins serves on the board of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, which honors the lives of three Black men who were falsely accused of rape and lynched by a mob in Duluth in 1920.
She points to the lynchings as one reason Duluth's Black population has been historically small — some people of color fled the city in their wake, and locals for decades suppressed conversations about the killings. That's contributed to some of the disparities present today, Jenkins said.
"People here believe stereotypes," she said. "They can think whatever it is they want because there's not people of color around to have them think otherwise."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said Friday that she "recognizes that there's work that we need to do," adding that the city recently created a new deputy police chief role to help evaluate policy changes.
Police Chief Mike Tusken said that the department recently launched a new data collection system that will be able to track additional information activists requested, like the race of individuals involved in traffic stops.
"This will be an opportunity for us to work together and improve how we police and our social contract we have with this community," Tusken said.
Blair Powless is part of a group asking the Police Department to adopt a list of new practices to build more trust with communities of color in Duluth. In the coming months, organizers say they plan to meet with city leaders to ask that the agency conduct a racial bias audit, freeze future budget increases and establish a local office of violence prevention.
Powless, who is Native American, said in an interview that he has had encounters with police in other cities that were "condescending, humiliating, degrading." His 21-year-old son is also training to serve in law enforcement, and Powless said he wants him to work in a healthy environment.
"I really think that we all need to be able to see each other as human beings rather than cops and activists," Powless said, "and realize that we all want what's best for our community."
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478