August 7, 2016
When the Hennepin County attorney’s office announced they were sending an officer involved ishooting that killed Jamar Clark people moaned.
The statement released by the county attorney’s office said:
We currently have a senior prosecutor assigned to the case and if it is submitted to our office, other prosecutors from this office will follow the practice of the past 35 years and present the case to the grand jury to determine whether a crime was committed that could be charged and prosecuted. There is nothing more I can say at this point in order to make sure the entire process is thorough, fair and complete.
In Minnesota almost all officer-involved shootings, or cases involving potential life sentences, go to a Grand Jury. But that is cold comfort to a community steeped in valid mistrust of the police and a political infrastructure full of racial disparities. People of color have seen this movie before. Cops shoot people, the evidence is considered behind secretive grand jury doors, and later officials announce there will be no justice.
To be sure, this is obviously a national problem. Depending who you ask places like the Twin Cities are not seen as hotbeds for the type of cases like Eric Garner who died in New York after a police officer used an outlawed chokehold. It was all caught on tape, yet the officer walked.
Before two weeks ago no one would have assumed that Minneapolis would have issues like those touched off in Ferguson last year, where a recent high school graduate named Mike Brown died in the street, laid their for hours, and eventually became the focal point of a new national movement to end modern day lynchings.
Nationally – some would say globally – there is a history of killer cops getting away with murder once they access a grand jury process that clearly favors them and not the public.
Minnesota kills black people too
While basking in the adoration of admirers who list Minnesota as tops in everything that matters (housing, jobs, education, quality of life), the truth is hidden about our own Erics and Mikes. Those with a good memory will call them Tycel Nelson. Courtney Williams. Terrence Franklin.
And, now, Jamar Clark. Let’s take those in order.
Nelson was a black teenager who was shot multiple times in the back while fleeing a party. Dan May, the Minneapolis police officer who shot him, said Nelson was raising a gun. Witnesses and an autopsy made that story hard to believe. Still, in their professional wisdom, Minneapolis’ police federation gave May a medal for his “courage” (under pressure he later returned it).
Williams was a 15 year old high schooler when Officer Scott Mars shot him to death. Like Nelson, Williams was fleeing. Police say he was carrying a pellet gun that looked real. His parents and friends dispute that claim. A grand jury refused to indict Mars, even though civilian reviewers of the case thought there was enough evidence to do so.
Dred Scott case.
“The use of the lower evidentiary standard works to the advantage of police officers accused of shooting a black person. Studies show that white officers are quick to shoot when confronted by a black person whose actions can be described as threatening. A credible threat provides the officer with evidence that tends to exonerate him from guilt.”
A study by Arthur Kobler of 1,500 officer involved killings between 1960 and 1970 found only three that resulted in criminal punishment, even though Kobler estimates three-fifths of the killings were either “questionable” or “unjustified.”
In 1970, a presidential commission on campus unrest concluded a “significant cause of the deaths and injuries at Jackson State College is the confidence of white officers that if they fire weapons during a black campus disturbance they will face neither stern departmental discipline nor criminal prosecution and convictions.”
That level of indifference to black life is not an artifact of history but a continuous element in relationship between communities of color and systems of policing.
In the suites or in the streets?
Why isn’t the black “leadership” class and their allies looking to move policy rather than accusing BLM of not having an agenda?