Minnesotans are starkly divided along racial lines over whether police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than against a white person.
Six in 10 black Minnesotans believe police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than someone who is white, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. Among white Minnesotans, 28 percent felt that police were more likely to use deadly force against blacks.
Despite the divide, most Minnesotans — 86 percent — described relations between white and black residents as fair or good. Only 10 percent of those polled rated them as poor.
The poll of 800 Minnesotans came a few months after the police shooting of a black man, Jamar Clark, in north Minneapolis and weeks of public demonstrations outside a nearby police station cast new light on racial tensions in the Twin Cities.
Opinions of law enforcement and the Black Lives Matter group divided sharply along racial lines.
The poll found that 63 percent of Minnesotans have an unfavorable view of Black Lives Matter, which emerged as a more high-profile force locally after police shootings of unarmed black men around the country.
More than 90 percent of black Minnesotans held a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter, compared with 6 percent of white residents.
The poll also found that 91 percent of Minnesotans had a favorable opinion of law enforcement agencies in the state. Virtually all white respondents had a positive view, while only 26 percent of black respondents had a favorable view of law enforcement.
“We are very well aware that as a profession, we have a great deal of work to maintain — in many cases, restore — trust, particularly in diverse communities,” said Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
Lena K. Gardner, a 33-year-old organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said she was not surprised by the results.
“You have this idea that Minnesota is a great place, but it’s only a really great place for white people,” Gardner said. “And then you have this Minnesota Nice which says we can’t really have open, honest and frank discussions because they’re awkward, they’re uncomfortable, and conflict is a bad thing.”
Gardner said the goal is to get people talking about race in a way that can be uncomfortable.
“In some ways, we don’t seek to be housed in high regard or high favor,” she said. “Because we’re seeking to end violence against black people. We’re seeking to end racial inequality.”
Sandra Andrews, a 74-year-old retired homemaker from Columbia Heights, said she did not like disruptions caused by past demonstrations by Black Lives Matter organizers. In recent months, demonstrations by the St. Paul and Minneapolis organizations have occurred at the State Fair, near the finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon and the Mall of America.
“We were going to go shopping before Christmas at the Mall of America,” Andrews said. “Well, we heard they were going to be out there, and … I had to rearrange my schedule to go a different time. They’re inconveniencing other people who have nothing to do with this.”
Andrews said she also didn’t believe that black residents were more likely to be subject to deadly force in encounters with police compared with white residents.
“I think we just hear [more] about when a white policeman shoots a black person,” she said. “They don’t make a big to-do when it’s a black person shooting a black person or a black person shooting a white person.”
Along with the emotion over the Clark case in the past year, there have been several other flash points that have drawn the interest of Gov. Mark Dayton and other state leaders. Census data released last September showed a rise in black poverty between 2013 and 2014, when overall the state’s poverty rate remained stable.
The Clark shooting remains under investigation by state and federal authorities.
Jennifer Patterson, a 40-year-old caretaker and leasing specialist from Bloomington, was among a majority, 57 percent, of Minnesotans who said they were not sure if police were justified in shooting Clark.
“I’m really sorry that the young man lost his life,” she said. “But I just think that we’re in an age now where there’s so much racial tension going on, between what cops go through every day and also what the black minority of people go through every day, that there’s so much commotion, so much tension, so much hatred, that no one is thinking.”
Patterson, who is black, said that amid high tensions, there is too little information about the shooting to make a conclusion about whether it was justified or not.
Lack of racial exposure
The poll found that 28 percent of Minnesotans statewide believe the shooting was justified.
The poll interviewed voters in the state between Jan. 18-20, and has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, plus or minus. Both land line and cellphone users were polled. The margin of sampling error for the group of black respondents is 16.9 percentage points. (For more information, see the “How the poll was conducted” sidebar.)
Joseph Robertson, a 64-year-old farmer from Hawley, Minn., said that his experiences with black residents is limited because of where he lives.
“We don’t have as many black people and I don’t have that relationship with a lot of black people, but the black people I do know, I like,” he said.
Jerry Voss, a 58-year-old building contractor from Ogilvie, said he, too, knew very few black people.
“There are two black people in the whole county,” he said, adding: “I don’t really know black people except the ones I see on TV.”
Asked if the lack of exposure shaped his views on race, Voss said “Oh definitely, of course,” but said he wasn’t sure how.
Skoogman, with the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said that while it’s heartening to hear the strong support for police, the overall poll results are troubling.
“They speak to the fact that we need to continue to work harder at maintaining trust,” he said. “It’s critically important that we have the support, the backing and the belief of our communities.”