Jamar Clark decision unites black community against injustice

More than a month after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that two Minneapolis police officers would not be charged in the death of Jamar Clark, tensions remain high in the community.

While the decision was not met with the type of violence seen following the police-involved death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and some other high-profile incidents, mistrust persists between community groups and city officials.

The feeling on the ground: A racist criminal justice system has once again protected police following yet another killing of an unarmed black man.

Directly following the announcement that no charges would be brought against the involved officers in Clark’s death, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis held protest marches that led from the Northside and Elliot Park to the Hennepin County Government Center. Leaders roused the crowd there with demands for justice and an end to police killing of African American men.

But Black Lives Matter Minneapolis was not the only organization to make calls for racial justice.

The Minneapolis Urban League pointed to inconsistencies between the account of Jamar Clark’s death offered by authorities and community members who witnessed the event. Chief executive officer Steven Belton noted that the investigation seemingly disregarded the accounts from these witnesses – many of whom stated that Clark was compliant, not combative.

“The county attorney’s refusal to prosecute,” Belton said, “further erodes the community’s trust in the legal system and law enforcement. Unfortunately, today’s announcement creates an even greater division between the African American community and those who took a vow to uphold the law and protect the people.”

In a statement, the Minneapolis Urban League called for regulations that would require Minneapolis police officers purchase professional liability insurance. The group also demanded the MPD be placed under federal receivership, an arrangement in which an official would be appointed to initiate systemic changes within the department.

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) voiced similar concerns that the community is simply not being served justly by the city’s police department, stating Jamar Clark was “executed” by a police force that is allowed to “act as judge, jury, and executioner in interactions with unarmed black men.”

The NOC statement also read, “Every day in Minneapolis, we see black men arrested for less evidence than was presented today about the officers’ deadly actions. The evidence presented today, if it had not involved police officers, would have been enough to send the case to trial for a jury to decide.”

The Minneapolis NAACP also weighed in with a call for justice. At a news conference a few days after the decision not to prosecute was announced, the group’s president, Nekima Levy-Pounds, called for a new investigation with a special prosecutor.

Levy-Pounds followed up her request with a letter to Attorney General Lori Swanson, stating a special prosecutor is needed because the Hennepin County attorney’s office has “a clear conflict of interest, given the office’s close working relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department and reliance upon police to aid in the prosecution of criminal defendants.”

Already underway is a federal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. attorney’s office. Mayor Betsy Hodges requested this investigation to determine whether officers involved in Jamar Clark’s death violated his civil rights.

Meanwhile, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has stood by his decision not to file charges. “I am convinced,” he says, “that if one reads the entire record available online and applies the mandated legal standard, they will agree that no charges can be brought against the police officers.”

Reverberations from this shooting and other police-involved incidents are being felt in state politics. A group of more than 75 Twin Cities racial justice advocates are promoting the United Black Legislative Agenda, a package of proposals meant to create greater justice and opportunity for African American communities in the state.

Among the proposals being pitched to state lawmakers is funding for police body cameras, seen as a critical need to increase police accountability and create greater trust within served neighborhoods. Advocates say that had officers been wearing these cameras on the night of Clark’s death, the community might have now clarity about what happened, not suspicion.