Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman delivered the official story on March 30, along with piles of documents and videos available on his website. According to the official story, a complete investigation resulted in no charges because it’s tough to charge a police officer with anything and there just wasn’t enough evidence. Several people have poked giant holes in Freeman’s presentation, including his misstatements of evidence, his dismissing the importance of eyewitness testimony, his over-statement of the reliability and meaning of forensic evidence, and his use of language and rhetoric that dehumanized and denigrated Jamar Clark.
Nekima Levy-Pounds and the NAACP have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor, with no ties to the Minneapolis Police Department, to re-evaluate the evidence in the case. Levy-Pounds said:
“It is clear from the statements of African American witnesses at the scene and evidence of a false narrative being put forward by Mike Freeman that a miscarriage of justice happened in this case. There is absolutely no reason for an unarmed African American man to be shot in the head within 61 seconds of encountering police. Attempts by Mike Freeman to justify his murder are unconscionable.”
Freeman released the transcript and video of his press conference, and also all or almost all the evidence and reports and videos and photographs that he considered. The BCA reports are presented in a single PDF document that runs to 1277 pages. And that’s just one of the pieces of evidence available on the website.
After analyzing Freeman’s statement and the evidence, many people have responded with analysis and criticism. Here are some of the best critiques that I have read:
On the day of the press conference, James C. Burroughs posted an anguished response on Facebook, speaking “as a lawyer and Black man” who has known and respected Freeman for years. He wrote:
“I was also expecting evidence that showed a balanced review of witness statements that showed how things transpired. I expected Mike not to solely rely on officer testimony. I expected an attempt at justice, even though I might not agree with the final decision. I have been a lawyer a long time so I know that the same facts can sometimes lead to different conclusions. I was prepared to give Mike the benefit of the doubt.
“I guess I expected too much.”
On the day after the press conference, Javier Morillo wrote that, “The not-so-subtle message was clear: Police Words Matter. Black Eyewitnesses’ Words Do Not.” Even if he decided not to prosecute, wrote Morillo, Freeman could have done better:
“Freeman only acknowledged the violent take-down of Jamar Clark to say that the police officer learned that technique “in San Diego.” We have since learned this is not considered a proper procedure in Minneapolis. And we knew before that this same officer had actually been sued in San Diego precisely for using this take-down method! How differently might we all have reacted to the press conference, I thought, if Freeman –following his own stated beliefs about the need to change police practices—had said something like, “this, to me, does not look right. It could have been done differently. They could have negotiated, had a conversation. Unfortunately, given the high legal bar for proving officer misconduct, this is not illegal.” But, no, Freeman could not find a single thing to criticize about the officers’ behavior. Everything they did was by the book. Everything. This isn’t, of course, that much a surprise, when you step back to realize that he took every word of their report as Bible. Of course they look like heroes.”
Steve Belton, also an attorney and the president of the Minneapolis Urban League, excoriated Freeman for “dog-whistle politics:”
“The county attorney’s timeline paints a picture of Clark as inebriated, violent, profane, irrational, unstable, morose, homicidal and, finally, suicidal, based on a 61-second encounter with police and a somewhat longer interaction with emergency medical personnel. This dog-whistle subtext activated the stereotype of the angry and violent black man who is tone-deaf to reason and must be controlled by force, even deadly force. …”
“Freeman stated as fact that the police officers repeatedly told Clark to take his hands out of his pockets, even though none of the estimated 50 or so folks standing nearby reported hearing the officers state that command, which is surprising, because police are taught to communicate in a loud and commanding voice. In code-speak, an African-American man who refuses to cooperate with police is by definition unstable and/or a threat and must be put down.”
Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka argue that Freeman’s narrative “is based on lies, deceptions, misdirection, and unsubstantiated claims by the involved police officers.” Their lengthy and well-documented argument makes five key points:
1. Freeman claimed that it is necessary for the state to be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to even bring charges. The actual standard for charging is probable cause.
2. Freeman characterized RayAnn Hayes as Clark’s girlfriend and said this was a domestic abuse call. She denies she was Clark’s girlfriend or that he broke her ankle.
3. Freeman stated the paramedics were very afraid because Clark was interfering with them. The paramedics did not say that. Video does not show him blocking them.
4. Freeman presented numerous implausible and uncorroborated statements from officers Schwarze and Ringgenberg as evidence justifying the shooting. Over 20 witnesses have repeatedly and consistently contradicted those officer statements.
5. Freeman described the DNA evidence as independently establishing Ringgenberg’s claim that Clark grabbed his gun. The DNA does no such thing.
Arguments over what happened continue. Javier Morillo sums it up starkly:
“#61Seconds. That’s how long it took police officers to determine Jamar Clark was dangerous because he had his hands in his jacket pocket, take him down, struggle with him, and shoot him in the head.”
The cops were afraid, said Mike Freeman. Their fear of death or great bodily harm justified the shooting. Former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza disagrees with Freeman’s statement of the legal standard that excuses cops, telling the Pioneer Press, “If you want to claim the justifiable use of deadly force, whether you’re a cop or anyone else, you have to demonstrate that deadly force is being used against you. No professional cares whether you’re frightened or not.”
Javier Morillo points out that “many arrests are made without a person getting shot in the head.… Here, where we live, men who do not have hypothetical guns that are maybe, perhaps, hiding in their pockets… men with actual weapons get arrested. And they live to tell the tale.”
Morillo lists more than a dozen cases of “men with actual weapons” getting arrested. They differ in two significant ways from Jamar Clark: They are all white. And they are all alive.
- Steve Belton. Jamar Clark case: Freeman played dog-whistle politics in communicating the narrative. (Star Tribune, 4/6/16) <http://www.startribune.com/jamar-clark-case-freeman-played-dog-whistle-politics-in-communicating-the-narrative/374685671/>
- James C. Burroughs, Facebook post on March 30. https://www.facebook.com/james.c.burroughs.5/posts/10156780665245010?fref=nf&pnref=story
- Frederick Melo. Minneapolis’ Jamar Clark police shooting death: 2 expert views. (Pioneer Press, 4/6/16) <http://www.twincities.com/2016/04/06/minneapolis-jamar-clark-police-shooting-death-2-expert-views/>
- Javier Morillo. What we praise when we praise Mike Freeman. #JusticeforJamar. (Thug in Pastels, 3/31/16) <http://thuginpastels.com/2016/03/31/what-we-praise-when-we-praise-mike-freeman-justiceforjamar/>
- Javier Morillo. Armed, arrested and alive. #61seconds. (Thug in Pastels, 4/4/16) http://thuginpastels.com/2016/04/04/armed-arrested-and-alive-60seconds/
- Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka. An official narrative, built on sand. (Question the Premise, 4/7/16) http://www.questionthepremise.org/new-blog/2016/4/7/an-official-narrative-built-on-sand