There will be no justice for Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black Minneapolis man shot dead by police on November 15, 2015. Clark joins a seemingly endless parade of young black people murdered at the hands of police officers who face no consequences for their reckless use of lethal force.
Wednesday morning, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze would not be indicted to stand trial.
We knew this was coming.
For 18 days, thousands of protesters gathered to mourn and demand justice for Jamar. For 18 days, we sang, held each other close, offered encouragement and food to anyone who stopped by while providing hats, gloves, and jackets to those who joined. Homeless families came to find temporary shelter in our tents and respite from the cold winter by the fires we built to warm our bodies and reignite our commitment to justice. Together, we had a huge family-style Thanksgiving dinner.
One week before the county attorney’s announcement, Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau started making the case that black people, and not wild, undisciplined cops, terrorize our communities. In a short video, she threatened that her police will not tolerate violence against anyone, including officers, following the decision.The video conveniently omits MPD officers’ bullying taunts and brutal physical provocations that led to tense moments. Police use of excessive force has led to the opening of a federal investigation. Harteau’s claims are so egregious—painting precinct protests as violent and lawless—that activists and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges decried them as a false depiction of events.
Attempts to cast grieving community members as a collective menace to Minneapolis ineffectively try to paper over the police department’s history of unquestioned support of violent officers. In six years, there were 439 civilian complaints of police misconduct and not one single officer has been disciplined. In that same six years, the city paid out over $14 million in misconduct and brutality settlements. Since 2000, there have been 42 officer-involved killings and not one officer has been indicted. Not one.
So when county attorney Mike Freeman gave a press conference, took to the podium and evoked the spirits of nonviolent freedom fighters Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., it was a clear sign of what was to come. One of the most curious impulses of whiteness is to stand in the face of black and brown people suffering intolerable cruelty and urge us to stay calm. Whiteness asks us to forget that both Gandhi and King were hated in life, and instead conjures them up as shining examples to shame us for the anger, rage, passion, and fight that rise in us as we are continually beat down by injustice after injustice. It asks us to comport ourselves as two martyrs, both murdered in search of justice. This gentlest racism demands no relief from the slow death of our communities, but for us to get stabbed through the heart and not mutter so much as “ouch.”
Freeman said he offered no indictment of Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze because his investigation could not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they had options besides lethal force and that they intended to kill Jamar Clark. Freeman argued that proof beyond all reasonable doubt is the standard for filing charges against a police officer.
Most of us recognize “beyond all reasonable doubt” as the measure of guilt or innocence in a court of law, not the ridiculously high bar for sending someone to trial. It is clear, as Mike Freeman told us—police are not subject to the law in the same way we are.
The irrefutable evidence he offered as proof of his thorough investigation came almost entirely from the police report. He presented, as truth, the word of two men accused of murder and abuse of power, while casting aspersions on the eyewitness accounts of (mostly black) bystanders as unreliable due to their heightened emotions. It’s a not-so-subtle sleight of hand that racism relies on: Whiteness is measured, reasonable, and rational. People of color are erratic, overly emotional, and irrational.
Freeman summarizes eyewitness testimony while reading from the police report as if doing a dramatic staging of a novel. #Justice4Jamar
— Javier Morillo (@javimorillo) March 30, 2016
Freeman was unable to offer one eyewitness account that corroborated the police version of events—including the video he shared at the press conference, which did not corroborate the police report.
Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze said there was a domestic disturbance and Jamar Clark beat his girlfriend Rayann Hayes. Eyewitnesses have said since day one that this is false. Hayes has repeatedly said that she and Jamar were not romantically involved, nor had he hit her.
She was injured and in need of medical attention. Paramedics arrived at the scene. According to the police report, Jamar was erratic and greatly frightened paramedics, who state that he impeded their ability to attend to Hayes. Video footage from the ambulance shows Jamar standing by the paramedics, who easily lift Hayes into the vehicle. It later shows him standing outside the ambulance. None of the violent behavior described in the report is apparent in the video footage.
Freeman talked of a struggle between Jamar and the officers, in which he somehow overpowered both of them, got control of one of their firearms and looked vacantly as he declared “I am ready to die.” Freeman narrates many of these events, filling in the blanks from the footage, because most of it supposedly happens out of the camera’s frame. The first sign of struggle visible in the video is an officer taking Jamar down in a chokehold from behind.
The county attorney did not bat an eye as he told a tale unsupported by the video he showed—acting as though his story coincided with the video, making this case a slam dunk. But that is not what we saw on the video—and we are always told to trust the reason of whiteness over our own eyes, and especially our own broken hearts.
And the ones charged to protect and serve? The ones whose duty it is to mete out unbiased justice? They get to harass and beat and kill us, while calling it “duty and service.”
They get to shoot Tamir Rice—a tall, young boy on a playground—while blatantly lying about what happened. When video footage surfaced to catch their lie, the officers still walked away without so much as a slap on the wrist for the murder of a young boy. Their bosses will malign a dead child, blame him for his own death by saying he looked older than he was, and punish his family while his murderers patrol the streets.
They get to shoot Mike Brown dead, leave his body in the street for hours, and ask us to believe that a cop almost the boy’s size felt like a kindergartener overpowered by a demonic, hulking juggernaut.
They get to arrest Sandra Bland for the unspeakable crime of being irritated with the traffic cop who stopped her, and rule her suspicious and untimely death a jailhouse suicide, while no one questions why so many people have the means to kill themselves in Texas jail cells.
They get to choke Eric Garner to death, on camera, and then tell us he suffocated because he was fat. His killer faced no charges, while police have doggedly harassed the man who captured the incident on his phone.
They do it over and over and over again because odds are in their favor that they will never, ever be held accountable for the terrorism that police departments commit against communities of color. And when people rise up and shout their pain, when we demonstrate, like MPD chief Janee Harteau, they will insist we are the thugs who need to be controlled.
We weep as a community—gravely disappointed and not even a little surprised. To expect abusive police to be treated as the criminals they are is to set oneself up for disappointment.
The system that abuses us, murders our children, and demeans our culture as inherently violent has the limitless power to determine what is true.
According to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, what is true is that police reports are infallible gospel and contradicting eyewitness reports are the result of hysteria.
According to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, what is true is that when police describe a man as erratic and hostile, but show video of him standing calmly, the truth is in their words and not what your eyes see.
According to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, what is true is that 61 seconds is enough time for police to arrive on a scene, confront, grab, attempt to handcuff, grapple to maintain control, take down with a chokehold, lose control of a gun, negotiate with and give several warnings to one man before shooting him twice in the head.
The first night of the Fourth Precinct occupation, I talked with a relative of Jamar Clark. I have never seen that kind of pain reflected in a person’s eyes, in his body. He cursed all of us—the police, the activists, the allies who came to stand in solidarity. He said we could all go to hell because nothing we did would bring his dude back. People got angry with him and left him to rage alone, but I stayed and held his gaze to let him pour out his vengeful grief at me.
He said, “Y’all didn’t know my bro. You don’t know nothing about him. You can’t tell me his middle name.”
I still don’t know Jamar’s middle name, but wind escaped my body each time the county attorney, whose press conference was a ruse to convict Jamar of his own death, mistakenly called him James. County Attorney Freeman didn’t respect Jamar’s life enough to correctly read his name off a paper right in front of his damn face.
And I sat at my kitchen table weeping. Silent tears gave way to heaving sobs as I remembered the first time I saw a police officer pull his gun on my teenage brother—as I chastised myself for daring, one more time, to hope. As I let it wash over me that my body is always one disgruntled interaction away from death. As I got ready to go join my comrades in protest of the decision. As I laced up my shoes and steeled myself to continue to fight. As I held on tightly to my pain, because I never want to settle into this carnage as normal. I never want it to settle into my spirit as the way it is supposed to be.
*This blog was originally posted at Daily Kos. You can see it here.