On the streets of north Minneapolis, in the barber shops and in neighborhood restaurants, there is tension and anticipation as a community waits to hear whether two police officers will be charged in the death of Jamar Clark.
That announcement by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is expected on Wednesday morning, sources said. While the decision looms, Minneapolis is again confronting strained relations between the police and black residents. The stakes are highest on the North Side, where many residents fear a decision not to indict the officers is a foregone conclusion.
As he sat on the front steps of his house in the Jordan neighborhood, Mike Mikell, 41, said black residents are convinced that the criminal justice system is stacked against them.
“It’s never going to stop,” Mikell said.
The circumstances behind Clark’s death are in dispute. Police union leaders say the unarmed, black 24-year-old was reaching for an officer’s gun, while witnesses claim Clark was handcuffed when he was shot on Nov. 15. He died the next day.
The shooting by the white officers led to international attention and an 18-day encampment outside the Police Department’s Fourth Precinct headquarters in north Minneapolis.
The officers, Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, were placed on administrative leave but returned to police desk jobs in January.
On Tuesday, Minneapolis police were making contingency plans. Mobile command centers were being set up, and officers were told to take their riot equipment home in case they were called in on short notice.
Also on Tuesday, Black Lives Matter produced a video blasting Chief Janeé Harteau for a warning that protesters impeding public safety would be arrested. Instead, organizers vowed to conduct peaceful, nonviolent protests.
At Fame Hair Studio, his barbershop on Lowry Avenue N., Brian Herron Jr. wondered aloud about the wisdom of police releasing a video warning of protester arrests before a charging decision has been made. Outside of several tense moments between protesters and police on the first few nights of the Fourth Precinct occupation, he said, the demonstrations rarely have resembled similar events in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
“It’s almost like a dare, or them creating an atmosphere for that to happen,” he said. “People aren’t out for blood.”
At Avenue Eatery, a favorite hangout for young professionals, Nikol Imani said she is a believer in direct action instead of getting angry at “a system that was never designed for us.”
“We’re trying to fight for different outcomes in the system, but we’re not doing enough to change things,” said Imani, who runs a mentoring program for young people.
At the next table, Julia Sewell nodded in agreement.
“What do we do beyond the anger?” she said. “Individuals coming together with a common goal is how revolutions get started.”
But it’s difficult for some to be optimistic.
“The mood of the community is grim,” said Marlon Moore, a 41-year-old therapist who said he spent countless hours counseling calm during last fall’s demonstrations. “There is a feeling that the officers will not be charged and that their actions will be justified” by authorities, he said.
Hassan Copeland, 18, took a break from a pickup basketball game at Farview Park. Jamar Clark was his second cousin. Copeland was pained to see that news reports over the past four months have overlooked the person Clark was — ambitious, with a love for working on cars — and that he is deeply missed by his family. “It’s different not having him around, but still, life has to go on,” Copeland said.
‘Anything can happen’
Don Samuels, a Minneapolis school board member, described several key figures in the local black movement — Nekima Levy-Pounds, Pastor Brian Herron and Mel Reeves — as “militant but responsible people.
“I believe there is enough mature leadership to prevent a Ferguson-type reaction from becoming full blown,” Samuels said. “To some degree, the responsibility is on them, because they have assumed the leadership.”
The Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, said he worries about provocateurs coming from outside the community “to stir up a whole bunch of stuff.”
“When egos get out of whack, anything can happen,” McAfee said.
Moore, the therapist, said that there is still a possibility of a Ferguson-type reaction “when the community feels that justice has not been given.”
“We have to be prepared to do the work,” Moore said, “to go out to the community and repair some broken hearts.”