The death of George Floyd here in Minnesota sparked a burst of lawlessness not just in Minneapolis but across the country. When the riots ended, the country began a years-long examination of race relations not seen since the end of the civil rights era of the 1960s. Much of that conversation centered on the criminal justice system, and specifically the widely accepted narrative that the system is rigged against black people at every stage.
While some of this national reckoning on race has been helpful, activists have used Floyd’s death to push forward an entire movement on diversity, equity and inclusion that has gone beyond the criminal justice system and infiltrated schools, corporations, and every aspect of society. All based on the narrative that the system is biased against blacks.
What if that narrative was false?
In 2021, for the first time, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension began documenting the race of criminal offenders in all crimes reported in the state. Using the 911 call as the starting point instead of the arrest offers the unique ability to focus analysis of race based criminal justice system performance on offenders rather than on “per capita” data sets of uninvolved law-abiding citizens. The difference is significant, given 98 percent of white and 85 percent of black Minnesotans are law abiding.
In our new report titled Dispelling the Myth of Unwarranted Racial Disparities in Minnesota’s Criminal Justice System, Center of the American Experiment is one of the first to use this new data set in an analysis of Minnesota’s criminal justice system. Offender data and other traditional data sets were used in an analysis which compared white and black adult offenders as they moved through Minnesota’s criminal justice system in 2021.
The analysis found that contrary to the established narrative, Minnesota’s criminal justice system does not create unfair or disparate outcomes for black offenders. In fact, from arrests to charges, sentences, and incarceration, white offenders received more certain and more punitive outcomes.
Examination of the 2021 data showed that blacks represented nine times more criminal offenders overall and ten times more serious offenders (those most likely to receive a prison sentence) than whites. If Minnesota’s criminal justice system was systemically unjust and biased, it would stand to reason those ratios would have worsened for black offenders at each subsequent stage of the criminal justice system. But they didn’t – they improved. In direct conflict with the prevailing narrative, the disparities that followed criminal offenders through the system were frequently more favorable to black offenders and less favorable to white offenders at every stage including incarceration.
Why is this so important to clarify? Because decades of policies that gutted accountability for black offenders have subjected black communities in particular to disproportionate levels of crime. As a result, in 2021 black Minnesotans were victims of serious and violent crime at ten times the rate of white Minnesotans.
Our report definitively shows that in Minnesota, the home state of George Floyd, the criminal justice system is not an unjust system purposefully or even poorly designed to inflict harsher penalties on black Minnesotans. It is a system that deals with grossly disproportionate numbers of black offenders at the outset. Deflecting attention away from this fact, and gutting accountability in a misguided effort to address “disparities” only subjects black communities to continued disproportionately high levels of crime.
I wonder what the reaction from race activists would be if our report showed Minnesota worked hard to end racial bias in the criminal justice system instead of simply proving it never existed. Would they cheer the result as progress toward the color-blind justice system promised in the Constitution? Would they refocus their energy upstream on the reasons more Blacks enter the system in the first place such as education disparities and broken families? Would they support crime victims (who are disproportionally Black) by demanding accountability from all criminals, no matter their race? I hope so but fear the deep divisions in our political system won’t allow it, even when the facts belie the narrative.