Housing, Race, And Police Stops: The Backstory To Philando Castile’s Killing
by BRYCE COVERT –
Last week, the internet watched a Facebook live video of Philando Castile’s death after he was shot by police during a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light. His killing took place in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a St. Paul suburb nestled between the region’s white suburban enclaves and areas where the minority population is quickly rising — a racial and economic border where aggressive police encounters are much more common.
Castile was pulled over in a place that is rapidly segregating by race, a phenomenon afflicting many American cities but is relatively new to this area.
“In the Twin Cities, it’s particularly sad, because 20 years ago we were one of the most integrated places in the country,” said Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School. “And the last 20 years we’ve segregated really fast.”
Orfield’s research bears this out. Minnesota was one of the first states to pass a law banning housing discrimination, while Minneapolis was the first large city in the country to pass a fair housing ordinance. And during the 1960s and 70s, when many other urban areas were experiencing rapid white flight, it had rules in place that kept different races and classes spread out evenly throughout the area. A regional government enacted a fair-share requirement that mandated that the suburbs provide an equal share of affordable housing so that it wasn’t all concentrated in the inner cities.
Between 1971 and 1979, as much as nearly three-quarters of all new subsidized housing was built in the suburbs of the Twin Cities area, “the best record in the nation,” as Orfield’s research paper puts it. By 1979, almost 40 percent of subsidized housing units were in the suburbs.
Thanks to these efforts, racial segregation was low. The share of black residents living in neighborhoods that were more than 50 percent minority fell from 45 percent in 1970 to 38 percent in 1980.
But then the efforts stalled.
In the 1980s, the building of affordable housing in the suburbs came to a halt as the fair share housing plan was abandoned. The share of suburban affordable homes remained stagnant for more than 3 decades, even as more and more people have left the cities to live in the suburbs. At the same time, the relative share of affordable housing in the cities has risen.
And racial segregation returned. Over the last decade, the population of racially segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods has tripled. By 2010, the share of neighborhoods that were majority non-white and high poverty had tripled, rising to 9 percent. In 2012, 19 percent of poor black Twin Cities residents lived in high-poverty neighborhoods. That’s remarkably high when compared to Portland, Oregon — where 1.6 percent of poor black residents live in high-poverty areas — and Seattle, Washington — with 3.4 percent in these areas — both cities that are about the same size and have similar demographic histories.
The Twin Cities now has “some of the nation’s widest racial disparities, and the nation’s worst segregation in a predominantly white area,” Orfield’s paper states.
These changes have themselves led to increasing tensions between communities and police. Orfield conducted research in 2003 looking into whether black people in the Twin Cities were stopped and searched by police more frequently. What he found is that in the 65 law enforcement jurisdictions that agreed to participate, black people were stopped at the highest rate of any racial group and more than 3.5 times more frequently than white people. They were also searched more often. Yet police were far more likely to find contraband on white people than on people of color.
And things are the worst in areas of growing segregation.
“In our research, you tend to see things like police profiling in situations where there are really stark differences,” he said. “Where you tend to see the biggest flare ups, the biggest problems, are in suburbs very close to poor neighborhoods.” His research found that black people were most likely to be stopped in suburban and central cities, rather than Minneapolis.
That describes Falcon Heights, the neighborhood where Castile was shot and killed. The neighborhood has seen its share of nonwhite residents grow from 4 percent in 1980 to 22 percent by 2010. Neighboring Saint Anthony, on the other hand, the town where the police officer who shot him worked, is less than 5 percent nonwhite. “That suburb of Saint Anthony is a very white school district surrounded by districts that are much more diverse,” Orfield said. “It’s kind of a little island out there.”
Before he was killed, Castile had frequently come in contact with this problem. Court records show that he had been cited by police at least 31 times while driving for minor infractions such as speeding and improperly displaying a license plate and accused by police of more than 50 violations in Falcon Heights. More than half of the traffic charges were dismissed outright.
“When you have rapid change in diversity in a surrounding community and a white island right in the middle of it, you often see quite a bit of tension in between those two places,” Orfield said. “That there would be aggressive policing doesn’t seem hard to believe.”
“We’ve tried to do separate but equal here, and it’s been a disaster like everywhere else,” he added.