By KAREN and JOHN SCHRAUFNAGEL
“To us, he was a loving young man. America has a criminal record. Minnesota has a criminal record against Black people. So if we are judging people against their past, let us start at the head.” —Kenya McKnight, spokesperson for Jamar Clark’s family, Nov. 17, 2015.
— MINNEAPOLIS — UPDATED REPORT, DEC. 6 — At 12:45 am on Sunday morning, Nov. 15, police here shot Jamar Clark, an unarmed Black man, in the head as he lay on the ground handcuffed. This was reported by numerous witnesses and confirmed by cell-phone video. Since it happened, the capitalist politicians, police, and news people have undertaken a coordinated effort to spin the message away from that truth.
Since Nov. 15, protesters have maintained a continuous presence at the Fourth Precinct on Minneapolis’ North Side, a predominately Black working-class neighborhood. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis sent text messages at midday on Nov. 15 calling people to the “scene of the crime,” and the response has been powerful.
Unlike previous occupations with unclear demands, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, together with the NAACP and the entire community, are united in demanding “Justice for Jamar,” “Release the Tapes” (referring to all the video of the shooting currently in police possession, which they refuse to make public), and “Prosecute the Police.”
“We’ve been saying for a long time that Minneapolis was one bullet away from Ferguson. Well, that bullet was fired last night,” said Jason Sole, an associate professor at Metropolitan State University and a member of the local NAACP chapter, at a protest on Nov. 16.
Soon after the murder occurred, a “village” sprung up on Plymouth Avenue directly in front of the Fourth Precinct building. Mel Reeves, a long-time activist and resident of the neighborhood, described the scene in a Facebook post: “Village is the right term for the tent city that has developed on the grounds of the Fourth Precinct. … Every kind of cuisine you could think of has been served free of charge at the Village. All you have to do is show up and support the protest and you can get your belly full. … Since it’s cold, the young people got people to donate warm clothing and gloves. Folks who didn’t have winter clothing have been supplied some pretty nice coats and gloves; for free.”
We conclude our report on the first week of the occupation with some comments from Mel Reeves that place the protest in perspective:
“Our enemies don’t rest, so the head of the Minneapolis police federation, Lt. Bob Kroll (rhymes with troll) opened his ‘lie hole’ and said he is sure the cops would be exonerated. For the record, I use the word federation because there is no such thing as a ‘police union.’ Unions are formations of working people. The police are by their status as enforcers for the system enemies of working people, usually taking the side of the employer over the employee, boss over worker, the rich over the poor, white over black, and of course the side of a rigged law against the rights of the people. It’s why they kill white people as well…
“The last thing the system wants is people in the streets. I mean in their downtown streets, interrupting commerce and even worse, giving other people ideas. Make no mistake, the power structure hates protest. They are well studied and they know that’s how revolutions start.”
White supremacists attack BLM encampment
On Nov. 23 white supremacists attacked the encampment at the Fourth Precinct. The next day, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis member Miski Noor delivered a statement on the attack to the press:
“What happened last night was a planned hate crime, and an act of terrorism against activists who have been occupying the Fourth Precinct to demand justice for Jamar Clark, a Black man shot and killed by the Minneapolis police department. Shortly before 11 p.m., four masked gunmen approached our encampment site outside the Fourth Precinct and began filming, the same behavior that had been exhibited by armed white supremacists who had previously visited the encampment and issued threats.
“Community members approached the men and asked them to identify their purpose and to please remove their masks. When they refused, they were escorted away from the encampment site. About 1/2 a block away from the precinct, the masked men opened fire, shooting five people, including one who was shot in the stomach, and required surgery.
“Despite earlier statements from the police about the impending threat from white supremacists, the police instead maced citizen journalists and peaceful protesters. They made disparaging comments to those at the protest, instead of taking the threats seriously. We reiterate that we have zero faith in this police department’s desire to keep our community safe. …
“White supremacists had already begun visiting the encampment in the preceding week; they had posted videos threatening anyone who believes that Black Lives Matter here. But we will not bow to fear or intimidation. Black Lives Matter exists to fight against this type of violent white supremacy, dangerous anti-black rhetoric and criminalization of black people. Because of that we are re-committing our occupation of the fourth precinct until we get justice.”
Demonstrating that “we will not bow to fear and intimidation,” thousands showed up for a 2 p.m. rally, which filled the streets of Minneapolis, marching all the way to City Hall. The march was followed by a memorial concert back at the precinct with prominent local artists and members of the Clark family, who reiterated the family’s unequivocal support for the ongoing occupation.
(A letter, which received quite a lot of press, stated that the family thought the protesters should go home, in view of the danger posed by white supremacists. This letter, in fact, came out of Congressman Keith Ellison’s office.)
Again, Mel Reeves supplies important perspective: “No matter how one views these events, the blame, the fault, should be placed squarely where it belongs, at the feet of the social, political, economic system which smoothly uses white supremacy to keep the races divided so they can enhance their bottom line; profit.”
Because week two also contained the Thanksgiving holiday, organizers and supporters put together “Blacksgiving.” The Facebook invitation read: “Please join us as we reject a history of violence, genocide, and oppression, and host a #Blacksgiving in front of the 4th Precinct where community members have been occupying, demanding #Justice4Jamar since Sunday, November 15th.” Over 500 made it to the site for some part of the day. All enjoyed community spirit and were well fed.
Politicians say the camp must go
Week three started with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges holding a press conference to announce that the two-week-old occupation needed to end “for the health and safety of everyone in the neighborhood.” Surrounding herself with every Black politician and community leader coopted enough to side with property over people, the mayor asked the protesters to voluntarily leave the encampment. The theme of the morning was “enough is enough.”
Congressman Keith Ellison, who represents Minneapolis and had previously visited the protesters and expressed solidarity with their cause, said he did not want to see police move the encampment out, “But what alternative do we have if they won’t voluntarily move?”
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president, spoke to protesters at the Fourth Precinct (in a “personal capacity,” meaning the NAACP is now distancing itself from her comments and actions): “Now I heard about that press conference Mayor Hodges did earlier with the old-guard leadership. Everybody that stood with Mayor Hodges is not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem. …
“We will not continue to tolerate old-guard Black leadership, sitting at these tables, looking for power, looking for grant money, selling out our community. … And I’m tired of these politicians, knocking on our door, asking for our vote, and then they get in office and don’t do diddly with the political power that they have. We asked them to change the laws and the policies that are oppressing people, and they’d rather focus on storing political capital than doing the right thing on behalf of the people.
“They don’t care what happens to the poor and vulnerable, because if they did they would have held the 4th Precinct and the Minneapolis Police Department accountable a long time ago. But instead, what did they do? Continue to rubber stamp the system, continue to pay out millions and millions in excessive force complaints, to settle those lawsuits. As far as I’m concerned, every member of government who played a role in that has blood on their hands because if they held the police accountable a long time ago, Jamar Clark might still be alive.”
Also on Monday, Nov. 30, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that he had charged the four gunmen who shot five protesters at the encampment one week earlier with riot and assault. But he declined to charge any with attempted murder, hate crimes, or domestic terrorism.
Responding to both outrages—Mayor Hodges’ subtle threat to forcibly evict the protesters and Freeman’s failure to charge the white supremacists appropriately—Black Lives Matter activists and allies visited City Hall twice on Tuesday. In the morning, clergy and interfaith activists sat in at City Hall, reiterating the demand to #ReleaseTheTapes, while calling for an end to this #TaleOf2Cities that are separate and unequal.
At 4 p.m., more than 150 people, mostly young, gathered outside City Hall, saying among other things “#WeChargeTerrorism: attacks by armed terrorists against our movement will not be tolerated, and continued terrorism from the Minneapolis Police Department must end.” Protesters pointed out that white terrorism is far more common and more deadly than any foreign threat. Finally, supporters were urged to contact Mike Freeman at 612-348-2146 and tell him not to use a grand jury in the Jamar Clark case (grand juries DO NOT indict cops) but to appoint a special prosecutor instead.
Beginning late Monday evening, tweets started coming that the police were staging and seemed to be preparing to evict the protesters. At 3:45 am on Dec. 3, over 100 Minneapolis Police violently evicted the #4thPrecinctShutDown and bulldozed the camp, putting an end to 18 days of a peaceful 24/7 protest and arresting eight.
Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said: “This morning Mayor Hodges, Council member Blong Yang and Barb Johnson, and Minneapolis Police showed yet again that they would rather tear down Black communities than address the needs of our community. Though they destroyed the community space we created, they will not destroy our resolve to fight until we get justice for Jamar Clark, or the bonds created across a diverse set of communities.”
Organizer Mica Grimm added, “We reiterate our demands: Release the tapes, appoint a special prosecutor with no grand jury for Jamar Clark’s case, institute a safety plan to protect Minneapolis residents from continued police violence, and address racial disparities plaguing our communities.”
Twelve hours later, over 400 converged on City Hall, taking their message directly to the mayor and city council. The peaceful protesters with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis endured a white supremacist terrorist attack, police violence—mace, batons, less lethal bullets—and freezing temperatures to demand justice for Jamar Clark and Black people in Minnesota.
Organizers are grateful to the thousands of supporters who stood with them in the weeks since Jamar Clark was murdered by Minneapolis police. “Our work is not over, it has just begun.”
Photo: Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president, speaks to the press about stonewalling by the city and police in response to demands for justice for the killing of Jamar Clark.