Black and white Minnesotans have dramatically opposing views of whether authorities should have charged two Minneapolis police officers in the shooting death of Jamar Clark late last year, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Among black respondents, 68 percent believe that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was wrong to not file charges against the officers when he made the announcement in late March. Only 17 percent of black respondents supported Freeman’s decision.
“The boy was shot in the head,” said Kim Tucker, a poll respondent from Minneapolis who is black. “They’re trained to shoot people in different areas, and that was close range. That, to me, was an execution.”
In stark contrast, 66 percent of white respondents agreed with Freeman’s conclusion; only 11 percent disagreed.
“If he would have taken them to trial, they would have beaten him up on it,” said Robert Seigel, a poll respondent from Moorhead, Minn.
The poll of 1,001 registered voters conducted late last week reveals a stark racial divide over how Minnesotans have interpreted the events surrounding Clark’s death in November, the protests that ensued and general perceptions about how police treat black people compared with whites.
Minnesotans were more evenly divided on whether police could have done more to diffuse the situation short of deadly force, with 35 percent saying police should have been less confrontational.
Clark’s death touched off weeks of protests outside Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct police headquarters. The death was the latest in a wave of police shootings of unarmed black men around the country, prompting new criticism that police are too quick to use lethal force with black men.
Freeman announced in late March that his office would not charge officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, following a lengthy state investigation into the shooting. After the announcement, Freeman released a wealth of interviews and information that he said reinforced his decision not to charge the officers.
According to the officers, Clark was uncooperative and acting erratically that evening. When Clark resisted being handcuffed, Ringgenberg attempted to take him to the ground, but botched the maneuver and landed on his back on top of Clark. At that point, the officers said, Clark tried to grab Ringgenberg’s gun. Schwarze issued a warning to release the weapon, and then shot Clark in the head when he refused to let go. Both officers told investigators they heard Clark say “I’m ready to die” during the altercation. The entire encounter unfolded in about one minute.
A clear majority of black respondents, 61 percent, said they did not believe the officers’ version of events. By comparison, 58 percent of white respondents say they do accept the officers’ story. Only 10 percent of white respondents did not believe the officers.
Tucker, from Minneapolis, said she doesn’t buy the officers’ account. She knows people who witnessed the shooting and says their version does not match up with what the officers reported. She also doesn’t believe that the officers had no option other than lethal force.
Sherry Profit said the officers’ version is flawed. Profit said she watched the video evidence and doesn’t think it supports what the officers told investigators.
She also cited comments made by a 10-year-old witness, who said after the incident that he saw the officers shoot Clark while he was handcuffed — an allegation Freeman and the officers dispute. “Children usually — they don’t just say stuff,” Profit said. “They’ll tell you the truth. They don’t make stuff up like that.”
Profit is also among the nearly 80 percent of black respondents who said the officers should have taken a less confrontational approach when they encountered Clark. Among white respondents, 43 percent approved of the officers’ conduct and 32 percent did not.
Seigel is among those who say the officers acted appropriately. “They followed what their field training officers have instructed them to do,” said Seigel, who said he has attended law enforcement training clinics. “There’s a very specific protocol to be followed, and they followed it.”
If anything, said Seigel, “they were probably a little more lenient than going strictly by the book.”
The margin of sampling error among white respondents is 3.8 percentage points, plus or minus, and among black respondents it is 5.7 percentage points, plus or minus.
Treatment in the system
Beyond the Clark case, 83 percent of black respondents said Minnesotans of color are not treated fairly by the state’s criminal justice system. Only 8 percent of black respondents said the criminal justice system treats whites and blacks the same. Several black respondents said this perception comes from personal experience or from that of a family member who has been racially profiled by law enforcement.
Of white respondents, 43 percent said the system treats both races equally, while 29 percent said it does not.
Only 26 percent of Minnesotans have a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter, the national group whose local chapters have led protests since the Clark shooting.
Among whites, 24 percent of respondents expressed a favorable opinion of the group, while 57 percent replied unfavorable. Of blacks, the results were flipped, with 53 percent saying they had a favorable opinion of the movement and 19 percent saying they had an unfavorable view.
Tucker, of Minneapolis, supports Black Lives Matter. She said she does not agree with everything the group does, such as shutting down busy highways, but she supports the overall message. “Respect everybody,” she said. “Respect us. We are here. Our children count; we count. You know, not just at voting time.”
Profit said she also agrees with Black Lives Matter’s mission, but she criticized the group for an apparent lack of organization.
“I agree with wanting to be out front and wanting to grab attention and wanting to be noticed,” she said. “But sometimes you have to be a little bit more strategic.”