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NAACP: Data shows Duluth Police arrest, use force more on people of color

Mayor, police chief say they are committed to change.

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Jamey Scharp, co-chair of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP's criminal justice committee, and Classie Dudley, chapter president, hold a press conference outside the St. Louis County Courthouse on Friday, March 26 about the Duluth Police Department's disproportionate rate of use of force and arrests of people of color. (Jimmy Lovrien / jlovrien@duluthnews.com)
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Activists say the Duluth Police Department acts disproportionally toward people of color, and are calling for sweeping changes.

In a news conference on the steps in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse on Friday, the Duluth chapter of the NAACP presented data obtained in public records requests that shows the police were arresting and using force more often on Black and Indigenous people than the city's white majority.

Of the 188 people involved in use of force events in 2019, 34.6% were African American and 13.3% were Native American, despite representing just 3.3% and 2.3% of the city's population, respectively.

Meanwhile, whites were involved in 50% of the use of force incidents despite making up 90% of Duluth's population.

African and Native Americans made up 16% and 12.8% of arrests from January 2017-October 2020, while whites made up 68.1% of arrests during that time.

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"The Duluth Police Department has engaged in years of racially biased policing against Black, Indigenous and other peoples of color," said Classie Dudley, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP .

The group demands the police's use of force and arrest rates be proportional to the demographics of Duluth by December 2022.

"The NAACP Duluth chapter will not rest until the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of everyone in the Northland are guaranteed in the practices of our law enforcement agencies," said Jamey Scharp, co-chair of the chapter's criminal justice committee.

Scharp said the group also demands the Duluth Police release twice-annual reports detailing its changes in practices and improvements on use of force and arrest rates. The group also demanded the release of data showing the race of people in traffic stops and who are bitten by on-duty K-9's.

Shortly after, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken responded to the NAACP in a virtual news conference.

Tusken said he wants to make sure he knows exactly what the NAACP wants before the department compiles and releases the data, but he noted that tracking race data on traffic stops is finally possible thanks to the department's new records system .

"We will fulfill those (data requests)," Tusken said.

Larson confirmed that she recommended the NAACP hold a news conference about its findings after a meeting with Scharp.

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"We do have work to do," Larson said. "I do agree that there are disparities that are not right, that there are systems that we can be better in, that there is change that needs to happen. I'm committed to doing that kind of change and getting us to a better place for this community."

Tusken said he looked forward to further conversation with the NAACP.

"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.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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