In one of the early cases of videotaped police brutality, days of deadly violence erupted on Los Angeles streets in 1992 when police officers who had been taped beating motorist Rodney King were acquitted of criminal charges. More recently, the nation watched buildings burn in Ferguson, Mo., after it was announced that no charges would be brought against a cop who shot and killed Michael Brown during a confrontation in 2014.
Yet five days after a similar decision here in the police shooting of Jamar Clark, passionate protests have been largely, thankfully peaceful. Demonstrators and their organizers should be commended for setting the tone to express frustration and anger constructively. Their response helps lay the foundation for the changes needed to improve police/community relationships.
Last week, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided that no charges would be brought against two Minneapolis officers who shot and killed 24-year-old Jamar Clark in November. During a news conference, Freeman shared the evidence he reviewed and, in an unprecedented move, made all the information public online.
Many members of the African-American community — and other Minneapolis communities — were angry and disappointed by the decision. They vowed to continue the fight for black lives and fair police treatment in the streets with marches and demonstrations. Some said they’ll take the struggle to the ballot box to elect city officials who will take action.
Yet even in their anger, frustration and grief, many in Black Lives Matter, NAACP and other demonstrating groups have rightly called for calm and healing as they keep the pressure on for needed changes in policing. One protesting pastor wisely said: “If we act up and act out, the spotlight is going to be taken off the police and onto the community. We’re not going to let them off the hook … .’’
Freeman’s decision is not the final word on the Clark shooting. The federal government’s civil-rights investigation of Clark’s death is ongoing. Once that is completed, a Minneapolis Police Department internal review of how the shooting was handled will be conducted.
Though they are the object of the protests, Minneapolis police and city officials also have practiced restraint in recent days — even as they prepared for the possibility of violence. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau have made it clear that public safety is the top priority for all involved, including protesters, police and the public. And both have stressed the importance of allowing people to exercise their free speech rights through peaceful protest.
The officials outlined various city efforts currently underway to address police misconduct and build trust with communities of color. Those include body cams and training in procedural justice, bias prevention and crisis intervention for all officers by the end of the year.
Community outrage over these issues is fueled by decades of poor relationships and mistrust between police and black communities — not only in Minnesota, but around the nation. In recent years, the Minneapolis Police Department has paid out more than $20 million in settlements in connection with excessive force accusations.
Those concerns are legitimate — as is the right to object and push for change through nonviolent protest. We’d urge that the demonstrations continue to be peaceful and respectful of public safety. And we encourage citizens to work with city officials and staff on efforts that are underway to build trust between community and police.