Minneapolis, MN – Few were surprised here on Friday, Oct. 21, when MPD Chief Jenee Harteau announced that the department had cleared its own officers of wrongdoing in the killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark almost a year ago. With Mayor Betsy Hodges at her side, the chief regurgitated the same defense offered by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman when he announced in March that he would not prosecute the cops who killed Jamar.
Harteau opened with the false claim that “DNA evidence does show Clark grabbed Officer Ringgenberg’s holster and gun.” Jamar’s DNA was found there, but his finger prints were not. Following Freeman’s earlier use of this same ‘evidence,’ independent sources explained that DNA can be transferred both from direct contact, but also from someone or something touching the gun after first touching Clark. That Ringgenberg had thrown Clark to the ground and landed on top of him was clearly enough contact to transfer that DNA, without Jamar reaching for or touching the gun at all.
When Freeman did his March presentation, he had played video from the night of Jamar’s killing. Many were deeply disturbed to see Ringgenberg wrap his arm around Jamar from behind, suddenly and violently throwing him to the ground. That decision is what led Ringgenberg to claim he’d lost control of his gun, as he laid flailing on top of Jamar. Ringgenberg then urged his partner to shoot Jamar. Schwarze obliged, putting the gun to Jamar’s head, and firing. Freeman did not address that takedown in his defense of the officers.
Family and community members have challenged the takedown as unnecessary and in violation of MPD policies. Harteau responded that it is wrong describe the maneuver as a “choke hold,” and dismissed the concerns, “While this may not be a specific technique the MPD instructs, that does not mean it was unauthorized.” She continued, “Therefore, the use of deadly force was warranted given the fact that both officers feared for the loss of life based on the belief that Clark was either in possession of the officer’s handgun or would imminently be in possession of the officer’s handgun if not stopped immediately.”
For months, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar has railed against the “61-second cover-up.” Activists say Jamar was killed when police arrived on the scene, where no crime had occurred, and where there was no threat. In 61 seconds, they escalated this to a situation where they claim they had to shoot an unarmed man.
This clearly bothered Harteau, who countered, “I would also like to address the ‘often-cited’ timeframe of 61 seconds. Every single day, police officers face quickly escalating situations where suspects refuse to comply with orders. In this case, despite being ordered to take his hands out of his pockets, Jamar Clark refused to do so. These officers did not have the opportunity to negotiate or tactically withdraw, which is the same conclusion the county attorney issued.” She made no effort to explain what they needed to negotiate, or why they might withdraw, from a man who posed no threat. The community is asked to accept that Jamar Clark was justifiably killed because his hands stayed in his pockets.
The chief claimed she made the announcement after meeting to discuss the findings with Jamar Clark’s family, but Jamar’s parents had not been contacted. Rather, the late Friday news seemed timed to limit community response.
Rather than waiting around to hear that the MPD had cleared itself of wrongdoing, the community organizing around Jamar Clark’s case is going strong. Just the day before, on Oct.20, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice (TCC4J) crashed a Hennepin County Bar Association forum on “Race, Policing, and Justice”. Saying forums are not the answer to police murder, activists called for the disbarment of metro area county prosecutors that have failed to hold police accountable for their crimes. The Jamar Clark case is just one example.
“They are accomplices to murder, abusing their offices and serving as the first line of legal defense for killer cops,” said activists who interrupted the forum. They continued, “In every case of police killings of civilians here in Hennepin County, Mike Freeman has been unwilling to carry out the duties of prosecutor, and bring charges against the officers involved in at least 50 cases under his tenure. Rather than ask for independent prosecutors to bring charges, Freeman has used grand juries or taken it upon himself to shield officers from prosecution. Freeman and his counterparts across the metro, like those around the country, give legal cover to an epidemic of racist police crimes. They are killing us!”
Not content to protect the killer cops in Hennepin County, Mike Freeman also involved himself in the handling of the murder of Philando Castile in neighboring Ramsey County. Freeman recommended ‘independent’ attorney Don Lewis to assist Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in that decision, which is still pending. Don Lewis is the same attorney who helped the MPD get off for the assault of Black community activist, Al Flowers, last year. Don Lewis has a resume filled with helping bosses and corporations avoid legal liability for their behavior. TCC4J’s S. Sanchez says, “We have little faith that Don Lewis will make any difference in John Choi’s decision in prosecution of Officer Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile. If John Choi goes against his history of more than 17 failures to prosecute for police crimes, it will fall in line with precedent of only bringing charges against officers that are women and people of color.”
TCC4J is working with others in the Twin Cities to organize an emergency response when Choi announces plans for Philando’s case, beginning with at 6 p.m. rally at JJ Hill Elementary School where he worked.
At the same time, organizing continues around Jamar Clark. James Clark said of his son, “There can never be justice for Jamar, but maybe we can win justice through Jamar.” In that spirit, one year after Jamar’s murder and the mobilizations that demanded justice, TCC4J is organizing a week of actions, to fight for Jamar, and all those lives stolen by police crimes against. Event details are being posted here – http://www.facebook.com/events/1211604272229645/