Sunday, March 20, 2016


After community activists have concluded their 2-hour long investigation, members of Black Lives Matter should decide whether or not a cop should be arrested, charged with and tried for murder

Does the title and subtitle of this post sound silly? Of course it does. But with police administrators and prosecutors suffering from Fergusonphobia, it is not too farfetched to say that we could be headed that way.

A recent example of Fergusonphobia occurred in Texas where the police chief of Addison had an off-duty officer from neighboring Farmers Branch arrested for murder in the shooting of a 16-year-old car burglar even though he said that the investigation was still ongoing.

The latest example of Fergusonphobia comes from the District Attorney in Minneapolis. In police shootings, he will no longer use grand juries, opting instead to be the one who decides whether or not to charge a cop with murder.

And with protest demonstrations or the threat thereof after a white cop shoots a black man, what do you think a police administrator or prosecutor will do if there is the slightest question about the justification of that shooting? Yup, you’re right … they’ll throw the cop under the bus.

In case you’re wondering, Fergusonphobia is a word I have coined to designate the fear of Ferguson-like riots occurring because a white cop has shot a black man.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday that grand juries will no longer be used to look into police-involved shootings, including the death of Jamar Clark

By David Chanen

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
March 17, 2016

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday that grand juries will no longer be used to look into police-involved shootings, including the death of Jamar Clark.

"I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome," Freeman said in a news conference. Instead, the County Attorney's office will investigate and determine whether there are charges. No decision has been made in the Jamar Clark case.

The 23-member grand jury has been used to determine in secret whether criminal charges are warranted in police shootings for more than 40 years in Hennepin County. Freeman said he began a review of the process 16 months ago, and was set to announce changes to the system last November, but postponed the announcement after Clark was killed.

Clark, a black man, was shot in the head during a scuffle with two Minneapolis police officers in November. The shooting led to widespread protests and an 18-day encampment outside the police department's Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis, near the site of the shooting.

"Secrecy, lack of transparency and no direct accountability strikes us as problematic in a democratic society, and to use or not use a grand jury in a shooting case is a hard decision for me," Freeman said. " ... The law that applies to the facts is exactly the same whether the prosecutor makes a decision or the grand jury does. On the other hand in our society I believe accountability and transparency are critical concepts for a just and healthy democracy."

Civil rights advocates, who long pushed Freeman to do away with a grand jury in the case, hailed the decision. "I am so incredibly proud of the black and queer young folks and the community who demanded justice," said Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.

She credited the community pressure to scrap the grand jury in the Clark case that began within 24 hours of him being shot. "This is a big step," she said, but there are many more steps we have to take -- getting the cops charged and actually seeing economic and racial justice in Minnesota.

"This will not keep black people from being shot in the streets," Montgomery added. "This just means we have a little more chance at justice."

For five consecutive Fridays, beginning Feb. 12, as many as 50 demonstrators had jammed the lobby of the Hennepin County attorney's office, demanding that Freeman not use a grand jury, but instead charge the two police officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, with the shooting. The protests began with rallies in the Hennepin County Government Center and included marches though the nearby skyways.

Mel Reeves, a member of the Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice for Jamar Clark, which organized the "Freeman Fridays," said he believed the pressure from the community and his coalition played an important role in Freeman's decision. "We think it's a partial victory for sure," he said.

"Our demand is still that officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze, be prosecuted for killing Jamar Clark to the fullest extent of the law," he said. "We think, based on what we've heard, there is enough evidence to convict them of a crime."

"I'm happy -- I just got the news," said Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP. "I am overjoyed that in this instance Mike Freeman decided to do the right thing .... Mike Freeman is fully aware that the grand jury process has been ineffective here and nationally in holding officers accountable. Justice requires a fair, transparent and open process which is the opposite t what typically happens in grand jury procedures. I believe sustained community procedure played a huge role in Mike Freeman's decision ..."

While most young activists have wanted the grand jury system scrapped deciding in police shooting cases, longtime Minneapolis civil rights activist Ron Edwards continues to favor a grand jury procedure.

He said grand juries give prosecutors an opportunity to see how witnesses will perform in a court setting and it becomes a way to determine their integrity and veracity. Now, he said, prosecutors will not hear their testimony under oath until a trial. "This puts tremendous pressure on civil rights organizations to produce witnesses who will hold up under cross examination," Edwards said.

Clark, 24, was shot after officers responded to a disturbance call outside an apartment building in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N.

The police union has said Clark had his hand on one of the officer's guns when he was shot. Activists say that's not true and that Clark was handcuffed at the time.

Police had been called on a report that Clark assaulted his girlfriend and blocked paramedics from trying to treat her. Clark died the next day. The two officers, Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, were on administrative leave but returned to police desk jobs in January.

The protests that followed Clark's death, which drew international attention, produced several tense standoffs between the demonstrators and police officers in riot gear who used pepper spray and batons to disperse crowds. That police response is now under review by the U.S. Justice Department.

The Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP and ACLU sued the state Department of Public Safety for release of the videos from the night of Clark's death.


Anonymous said...

Why don't they just let the Grand Jury do their job.

bob walsh said...

There is a significant number of people in this country who believe that minority young men are ENTITLED to commit crimes as it is their only functional source of income beyond government payments. They believe that any government interference with this entitlement is discriminatory. Therefore to much of the activist community any time a cop, especially a white cop, shoots a young man of color it is automatically attempted murder or murder, regardless of the actual facts of the case.

Anonymous said...


Well said.