Community and City seek correct response after Jamar Clark’s death

Earlier this month, Minneapolis police moved swiftly in the pre-dawn darkness to break up a makeshift camp of protesters outside of MPD’s Fourth Precinct.

As tents, cooking equipment and camping chairs were cleared from the street, more than two weeks of protest – which began after Jamar Clark was killed in an officer-involved shooting – came to an end.

It was a tumultuous, tension-filled period during which the community sought answers on how to stop the unjustified loss of Black lives while recognizing that well-intending police officers risk their lives every day to protect the public.

For many, Jamar Clark’s death was – and remains – an obvious act of police misconduct. Witnesses attest that Clark was handcuffed and on the ground when shot. Others dispute these reports, stating Clark went for an officer’s weapon as police attempted to detain him following an alleged domestic violence incident.

Since protesters began protests at the Fourth Precinct station on November 15th, public officials have sought to address the concerns of community members while highlighting the importance of keeping the public safety and letting the facts about Clark’s death come to light.

“I hear people’s frustration,” wrote Mayor Betsy Hodges in a Facebook post. “This process is going to require patience on all of our parts, including my own.”

In her post, Mayor Hodges informed the public that she had asked for “an independent investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a review by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s Office.” She also made public her willingness – shared by Minneapolis Police Chief Janée Harteau – to allow peaceful protests.

Without backing down from assertions that Jamar Clark’s death was unjustified, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis – which has served as the primary voice of the protestors – sought to maintain peace among protesters, including at the Fourth Precinct protest camp.

That did not keep some from seeking out violence: On November 23, five people were shot near the camp, including the cousin of Jamar Clark. Four white men were ultimately arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the shooting.

Soon thereafter, calls were made to end the protest at the Fourth Precinct – in the interest of protect the public safety. Leading the charge: Jamar Clark’s family called for people to leave the protest site, without losing focus on getting justice for Jamar and protecting other Black lives.

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison also called for protesters move on, “I understand the power of exercising First Amendment rights. This activism has sparked a long overdue conversation about issues facing Black Minnesotans, which I know intimately as a North Minneapolis resident…. But given the events of this week, there’s no denying that conditions are unsafe. Protestors and activists should continue to push for systemic change in Minnesota, but it’s time for the protest occupying the Fourth Precinct to evolve beyond the encampment.”

On November 30, Mayor Hodges joined Representative Ellison in calls to end the occupation, also citing concerns over public safety while saying that the city has been responsive to protestors’ demands.

“Many people have done a great deal to be responsive to the requests and the demands that are on the table,” said Mayor Hodges. “Even so, we know there’s more to be done.”

Again calling for the occupation to end, Ellison cited the impact of upon the community. Police response times during the period of occupation were slower, and some nearby residents reported acts of vandalism, though they were believed to be actions of people not associated with the social justice movement.

“While I say your goal, I believe is legitimate, justice for Jamar…,” said Representative Ellison, “the byproducts of that goal are having very negative impacts on people in the neighborhood.”

On December 2, city council member Blong Yang joined the official cries for the occupation to end, saying, “This has gone on long enough.”

When the encampment at the Fourth Precinct was cleared the following day, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis was quick to affirm that the camp’s dispersal would not mean the end of protests. Later that day, a march on City Hall proved they would continue.

As the details of Jamar Clark’s death continue to be investigated, so too have protester activities been scheduled to keep racial injustice in the public eye.

At the city level, actions are being taken to try to prevent future incidents of officer misconduct. On December 8, Mayor Hodges and City Council Member Blong Yang announced budgetary support that would fund training in procedural justice for all police officers next year and accelerate crisis intervention training.

“This commitment to increased training reflects the values we have as a city,” said Council Member Yang. “The funding allows the Police Department to intensively train officers on implicit bias and procedural justice. It will result in a more responsive and culturally-competent police force that works for the community it is entrusted to protect and serve.”