Telling truths about Jamar Clark, Minneapolis police and #BlackLivesMatter

Nekima Levy-Pounds, Erica Mauter, Bill Lindeke, and Karen Wills: these are just a few of the eloquent voices I’ve been reading over the past week. They’ve written through the police attacks on demonstrators on November 18 and through the political and police debates going on all over the Twin Cities media. I know it’s hard to keep up with the news — just compiling the information for this post took me all of Sunday afternoon. So, if you want good information and don’t want to spend all day searching  for it, here’s a brief recap of the week’s events, followed by links to and quotes from some of the best of this week’s statements and analyses.

Recap

People protesting the police shooting of Jamar Clark on November 15 — including the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, labor union supporters and hundreds of community members — maintained a 24 hour presence outside the 4th Precinct throughout the week. On Wednesday night, police came out in riot gear, pushing back protesters, hitting some with batons, shooting Mace into the crowd, and shooting “marking bullets” and rubber bullets at some individual protesters. In the early morning hours, they charged into the protesters, tore down a Black Lives Matter banner, and then went back behind barricades.

During the week, the Department of Justice agreed to investigate and the names of the two officers involved in the shooting were released. The BCA, Mayor Betsy Hodges, and Police Chief Janée Harteau continue to maintain that videos of the shooting cannot be released because releasing evidence during an ongoing investigation would prejudice the investigation. That apparently doesn’t apply to statements by police vilifying Jamal Clark and presenting the official police version of the shooting.

Police union head Lt. Bob Kroll has been particularly vocal, saying on TPT Almanac that he worries about “politicians getting in bed with thugs” and that, “We need to quell this. We need to silence that vocal group of activists.” Kroll comes with his own history of racism and abusive behavior.

Nekima Levy-Pounds

Nekima Levy-Pounds is the president of the Minneapolis NAACP and a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. Speaking on November 19, the morning after the police maced protesters (and a few reporters) and brandished guns at city council members, she spoke:

“We do not agree with the assertion that releasing the videotapes is going to contaminate or have any impact on the bearing of the outcomes, and part of our request for the release of the tapes has to do with the fact that there have been so many false narratives that have been spawned by the Minneapolis Police Department as to what has happened. We have been on the ground, we have talked to witnesses, we have serious concerns about the narratives that are out there that are inconsistent with what many witnesses in the community say happened. …

“We are also asking the Minneapolis Police Department to exercise restraint in its handling of nonviolent protesters. Last night we got word that two protesters, both women, were beaten in an alley by members of the police department. We know that Congressman Ellison’s son had a gun pulled on him by the police along with several elected officials as well. And I was here at 1 a.m. and an officer didn’t like the chants of some of the protesters and they pulled a gun on us. … It is a response that is completely uncalled for

“We are asking the community to exercise restraint in the midst of grief and hurting and unanswered questions. And we demand the same respect from the Minneapolis Police Department.

“We also would like to see long-term reform of the Minneapolis Police Department. The problems that we are talking about today are not new. They have been going on for decades. …

“What happened to Jamar Clark is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the abuse and harassment that members of the Northside community in particular and throughout the Minneapolis community have faced at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. We are here standing in solidarity with the community saying enough is enough. We’re demanding the release of the tapes. We’re demanding reform of the police department. And we’re demanding justice right now.”

ACLU

The Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement putting the shooting of Jamar Clark in the same context that Nekima Levy-Pounds alluded to:

“The ACLU-MN joins the NAACP Minneapolis and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis to demand transparency in the investigation of the shooting of Jamar Clark. So far in 2015, 998 people have been killed by the police, 11 in Minnesota. As has been proven time and time again, Blacks are far more likely to be shot by law enforcement. The time has come to address this issue as this is not a Black issue, it is an American issue. The first step in interrupting this cycle must be urgent reforms in how police and communities interact. We must acknowledge the tragedy of Jamar Clark’s death, and the death of others. Over time, the daily injustices, the repeated instances of police brutality, the dehumanizing and unconstitutional treatment of poor and minority people has degraded the American community to a level that is unconscionable.”

Erica Mauter

Erica Mauter is a Facebook friend of mine, whose post caught my eye as particularly thought-provoking. I asked her for permission to re-publish it here, and she graciously agreed. The post, excerpted here, was written the day after the police clash with protesters:

“MPD’s actions last night were entirely unnecessary and uncalled for. I mean, obviously SOMEONE called for them, but there has to be a better way. This entire incident has rolled out exactly as expected from the moment police were called to the incident that ultimately turned into Jamar Clark’s execution. Black man was perceived as threatening. Officers responded with incongruent deadly force. The community is understandably upset. BLM responds with a combo of peaceful protest and planned disruption. Police incite violence and blame the protestors. Rinse, repeat. This is utterly tragic, and completely avoidable.

“It seems entirely possible/likely that some asshole went in with the protestors at the 4th Precinct last night and threw a bottle or a rock. Even before you get to deliberate infiltration and instigation, there’s always someone who’s just feeling themselves. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis is incredibly organized, and part of that organization means things like having a garbage patrol, having marshals and reflective vests, and apparently having a port-a-potty delivered. … But there’s a lot of folks milling about and you can’t guarantee – especially on short notice – that everyone got the proper memo.

“BUT, there’s still CLEARLY a double standard for what constitutes an actionable ‘threat.’ … [The] irony of officers feeling unsafe and having no empathy for how they make community members feel unsafe is unbelievable, and is of particular importance in a standoff like this one. …

“Lots of folks are expressing disappointment (to put it mildly) with the lack of response from Mayor Hodges. … Do we wish she were more visible, and more visibly outspoken in support of the protestors and in response to their demands? Yes. Do we wish she weren’t just pushing statements from inside the fortress (literally) of city hall? Yes. Is she not working within her authority to get stuff done? As far as any of us can tell, she is. All the demands specific to #Justice4Jamar except for the release of the video have been met, including securing a federal investigation of the homicide. Fostering fundamental culture change within the police department, while being the *civilian* in charge of it is a helluva tightrope to walk, and who can say any previous mayor has done that particularly well?

“The point of this post is not to condemn or condone the sum total of the mayor’s actions. … The mayor does not actually have unilateral authority to do some of the things we ask of her.

“But it’s her job to take the heat AND it’s also the job of activists to call for those actions. For us to move forward, it takes both of those things. …”

Bill Lindeke

Bill Lindeke blogs at Twin City Sidewalks and at Streets.MN. In a thoughtful and wide-ranging blog post published on November 20, he wrote about “decades of work fighting the lethal brutality of the Minneapolis Police Department” and the current political moment that includes #blacklivesmatter protests over the past year:

“But in another sense, these demonstrations were the only way to connect the geographic dots between the problems facing Minneapolis’ segregated communities and the Twin Cities’ suburban infrastructure, a landscape that makes it effortlessly easy to ignore racial inequality. When #blacklivesmatter shuts down the freeway to Maple Grove, not only do they perform a tragically ironic bit of political ju-jitsu by occupying the very freeway that helped isolate the neighborhood in the first place, they make a particular statement about urban segregation:

‘Black lives matter, even to everyone driving past on their way to the white suburbs.’

“At least to me, this expansion of scale is the critical move. …

“Because the Minneapolis police force embodies the racial and geographic inequalities of the region, they have now become the terrain of contest. With last week’s killing of Jamar Clark, lurking racial inequalities and systemic violence focused to a tragic point. It’s difficult to see how the standoff on Plymouth Avenue will play out without upsetting the city’s liberal applecart. …

“As a few people have pointed out, the Near North neighborhood where the 4th precinct MPD HQ is located is the site of the 1967 race riots that shook North Minneapolis and left lasting scars on Plymouth and Penn Avenues. By key measures, particularly education, the Twin Cities are more segregated than ever, and last year’s statistics show the city’s racial opportunity gap widening.”

Karen Wills

Karen Wills, who identifies herself as the CD3 DFL Outreach, Inclusion and Affirmative Action officer, posted Answers to Top Ten Questions that decent human beings are asking on her Facebook page. takes on some of the frequently-asked questions in a Facebook post. I’ve excerpted just a few — read the rest here.

Q5: How can they support a guy who was reportedly abusive? Don’t they care about women and victims of domestic violence?

A5: Yes, they surely do care. More than most. The chief organizers of #BlackLivesMatter are highly familiar with the “intersectionality” of violence against women, Trans people, Black and other people of color. Day after day at the protest, they decry violence and preach love for ALL people. This does not make the evening news.

HOWEVER, they know that when people dial 911, they have a right to expect protection, safety, respect. Proper police procedure. Not MORE violence. Not summary “justice.” Not a death penalty dealt out by an officer at the scene. An abuser may be someone who needs treatment for chemical dependency, anger management, or maybe should be locked up. A victim or neighbor who calls the police might hesitate if they think police will shoot and kill someone. That hesitation endangers women. In America, law enforcement officers are not supposed to execute arrested criminals. Officers who do so should be charged and held accountable. Officers need training in non-lethal conflict resolution, with laws and policies that hold them accountable and systems of oversight that are fair and unbiased.

Q6: How can I support the #4thPrecinctShutDown?

A6: Look on the Black Lives Minneapolis or SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) or MARCH Facebook pages or websites to see what’s been posted about how to help. Hot beverages (esp. hot cider or chocolate as a break from caffeine) and hot foods (such as hearty soup, stew, chili, “hotdish”) for lunch and dinner generally are welcome. Warm clean hats, mittens, scarves are very welcome and being shared with people in the community. Donations for legal fees can be made on the BLM website.

Q7: Do they want white people to show up or stay away?

Q7: As an older white person, I have felt welcomed and invited back. But some basic etiquette: Listen more than you talk. Look for or ask an organizer what needs to be done. Do what needs to be done (for example, help unpack and arrange food & supplies as people bring in donations. Serve food or drinks. Pick up & bag up trash. Smile and converse with people. Bring your skills (one group showed up with massage chairs & offered free massages, others sing or play music). Listen to the stories and honor the cold, tired, people who’ve been camped there for a week now. Share with your friends & on social media what you see and learn so that they know more than what’s on the evening news which often emphasizes any conflict, however brief, and plays it up like that’s the whole tale. Do not brag about being there but don’t be shy about sharing your perspectives because all our stories matter. …

Q10: Do we have racism here in Minnesota? I thought that was mostly in the South.

A10: There are three main kinds of racism in Minnesota: Willful, Unconscious, and Structural. There is horrendous willful racism – decent people will be appalled by looking at BLM Facebook or Twitter comments. We have White Supremacist groups in Minnesota. Organizers of BLM get death threats. There is also personal unconscious bias, the uneasiness that people (of all colors) absorb from news that constantly shows Black people as dangerous. And thirdly there are age-old laws and public systems that have resulted in a segregated society with unequal sharing of opportunities, punishments, and privileges. That’s structural racism. It will take all of us to change that, so all our kids, workers & elders can thrive.

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6 Comments

Filed under human rights, race

6 responses to “Telling truths about Jamar Clark, Minneapolis police and #BlackLivesMatter

  1. Beverly Ferguson

    Excellent work, Mary. Thanks for this summation it really helps to put a lot of separate information together.

    Liked by 1 person

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