Over the past few nights protesters have set up a base camp in the alcove of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct. They’ve spilled into the streets asking for justice in the case of Jamar Clark, shot early Sunday morning. On Monday, factions of the crowd, perhaps led by Black Lives Matter, perhaps on their own, shut down traffic on Interstate 94. Dozens of the protesters were arrested.
Here is what we know: A young, unarmed black man was shot by a police officer during a 911 domestic abuse call. A lot of black men have been shot nationwide lately, often under suspicious circumstances. Many people are angry and mistrust authorities.
That’s pretty much it.
Given the volatile climate in which this shooting occurred, the police administration seems keenly tone-deaf to the need for basic but prompt information.
I was not on the scene the moment Clark was shot, and neither were you. If you were, you need to come forward, because we need the truth.
Until then, we have a set of conflicting reports, innuendo and rumors, which many people seem to confuse with facts.
Was Clark handcuffed when he was shot?
We don’t know. Police say no, possible witnesses say yes. If you are not one of those people, you may think you know but you don’t. You just believe you do, based on your experiences or simply because that is what you choose to believe.
Who shot Clark?
We don’t know yet, but we will.
Was he resisting arrest?
We don’t know.
Was Clark shot in the head?
Yes. Tuesday night, the medical examiner said he was killed by a shot to the head.
Are there videos of the shooting?
There are videos, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions (BCA) said Tuesday, but no one video that shows the whole event. Rumors are rampant that there were amateur videos floating around, but they are suspiciously slow to materialize. Don’t believe in them until you see them. Even then, remember that what you see in them is likely dependent on what you believe.
The fact is that in the death of Jamar Clark we, you and I, know very little.
So it may come as a surprise that so many people in this city act like they know exactly what happened and are willing to say so in the press and particularly on social media. Maybe that’s part of the problem: Knowledge is in the palm of our hand, and all we have to do is speak into your phone to find the capital of Bolivia or the net worth of Bill Gates or whether Michael Brown ever said “hands up, don’t shoot” that day in Ferguson.
We think we know everything.
Actually, we still don’t know that last one, even though it’s all over the Internet. Several grand jury witnesses actually supported the police officer’s story in that case, as did forensic evidence. Was the grand jury process flawed? It certainly seemed so. But “hands up, don’t shoot”?
We still don’t know. We believe.
There are, in fact, plenty of reasons to be skeptical of answers simply provided by officials. Passing the investigation of Clark’s death along to the BCA was a logical first step. But keep in mind that the BCA was called in to investigate 83 shootings of individuals by law enforcement officers in the past decade and in all but one concluded that the use of deadly force was justified, according to a Star Tribune investigation. The one case was dismissed.
So Mayor Betsy Hodges made the right call in asking for a federal investigation. That satisfied one of the demands by Black Lives Matter, but it likely would have happened whether they wanted it or not in this case.
BLM wants answers now, of course. We all do. But I also want accurate information. Facts.
When Ramsey police shot Chaz Michael Havenor in August 2014, the BCA investigated and released the names of the officers involved within a couple of days, along with basic details of the incident. Havenor was white, Clark is black.
The clock is ticking, and it’s making people suspicious.
Some of the people at the demonstrations, however, are suspicious of anyone who seems somehow establishment or official. This is nothing new. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? On Monday night, some activists were telling people not to talk to the “white mainstream media,” whatever that means. I guess it’s me.
These are the same people who thank us privately for showing up and covering events and digging up data on arrests and police malfeasance. But that message doesn’t play to the crowd.
Early Tuesday, however, BLM sent out a news release boasting that the demonstrations had been picked up by the BBC, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and major television stations — the very definition of the “white mainstream media.”
“This won’t go away,” the release said.
No, it won’t, as long as those people with the notebooks and cameras who roam among you continue to demand facts from those who keep them. Not rumors, not beliefs, but facts.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin