Peaceful protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis on Wednesday in anguish and anger over Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s decision not to charge two police officers for last fall’s shooting death of Jamar Clark.
Several hundred protesters converged on the Hennepin County Government Center in the evening after marching from Elliot Park, just south of downtown, and from north Minneapolis, where Clark was fatally shot Nov. 15 in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. They came chanting, “No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!” They lowered their heads for moments of silence, raised their fists and said they remain committed to demanding justice.
“We won’t stop until change is here,” Pastor Carmen Means told the crowd.
Charles Caine, president and executive director of Brothers Empowered and an activist with Black Lives Matter, said the rallies were about keeping the movement alive. “It’s about showing that the people aren’t just going to die,” he said. “This isn’t going to be the last fight we’re going to have to fight.”
Maret Banks of St. Paul walked among the activists burning copal incense in a shell to bless the crowd. It’s a tradition in Mexican culture to prepare for battle, she said. “I’m mad, but I have to balance the anger with cleansing,” said Banks, 24. “We can’t just have a verdict go uncontested.”
After the downtown rally, about half the protesters walked back to the North Side site of Clark’s shooting for a late-night gathering. It, too, was peaceful, though about 10:30 p.m. the tone turned angrier, with some protesters swarming toward the front door of the Fourth Precinct headquarters and burning a U.S. flag that bore the names of black men killed by police — an action that drew critical comments from some other protesters.
Officers in riot gear watched from the roof and windows but did not engage the protesters. Just after 11 p.m., things began to wind down, with most people leaving.
Earlier, Mel Reeves, a member of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, said protests will continue to demand that officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze be prosecuted. Reeves called Freeman’s account “a great fairy tale.”
He added: “It doesn’t line up with anything that witnesses told us. None of the witnesses saw a struggle for a gun. … What they told us today is that Minneapolis police are above the law. We won’t quit until we get justice.”
Ron Edwards, a longtime Minneapolis civil rights activist, argued that there could have been a different outcome if a grand jury had made the charging decision. He said it was a mistake for Black Lives Matter to oppose taking the case to a grand jury, where he believes there could have been a better chance for an indictment of police officers.
Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, praised the release of evidence considered by the Hennepin County attorney’s office, saying the increased transparency is welcome. Samuelson, however, expressed consternation at the timeline presented by Freeman.
“Jamar Clark was shot within 61 seconds of officers arriving on the scene,” he said. “It is unsettling that he was shot so quickly. Officers should have allowed more time to address the situation fully.”
Standing amid protesters, Pastor Brian Herron heard and felt their pain as they demanded police reform. “They are tired and fed up,” he said. “Right now, we got to get through this night” before thinking about what’s next, he said.
A plea for peace and healing
Wednesday afternoon, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges issued a joint statement with Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau calling for demonstrators to be peaceful.
“Many people are feeling hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration,” Hodges said. “There is a tear that has ripped through our community, one we cannot sew back up. And together as a city and a people, we can walk through this tear to build what we all want — a city that is safe and equitable for everyone.”
Said Harteau. “Our highest priority will be keeping everyone — demonstrators, the public and police officers — safe as the city reacts to this decision.”
Clark supporters attended the hourlong news conference where Freeman showed videos and cited DNA, forensic evidence and statements from the officers that he said proved Clark had a hand on one officer’s gun during a struggle and was not handcuffed when shot. Officers said that during the brief struggle, Clark reached for one of their guns and said, “I’m ready to die.”
Cameron Clark doesn’t believe his cousin Jamar would have said that. “And I know my cousin wouldn’t grab no gun,” he said.
“We’re going to have to do something because we can’t just let this drop and just say, ‘That’s another brother gone.’ We have to get justice,” he said.
Freeman acknowledged that there were contradictory eyewitness accounts, but said forensic evidence and a lack of bruising on Clark’s wrists supported the officers’ versions.
Once Freeman offered to take questions, Clark supporters peppered him with questions and statements.
Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said police are pushing “propaganda” and did not give enough credence to eyewitness accounts.
“We’re not going to tolerate violence against nonviolent peaceful protesters in our community,” she said. “We’re not going to tolerate officers who continue to engage in excessive force. And we’re not going to tolerate a city that has settled $20 million in excessive-force payouts over the last decade.”
“We’re going to stand forward and rise for justice. We’re going to take to the streets. And we are going to fight until we get what we came for, which at the end of the day is freedom, justice and equality.”
Staff writers also contributing to this report: Jennifer Brooks, Beatrice Dupuy, Randy Furst, Andy Mannix, Beena Raghavendran, Liz Sawyer, Chao Xiong and Karen Zamora, as well as two University of Minnesota students on assignment for the Star Tribune, Barry Lytton and Zoë Peterson.