Minneapolis Black Lives Matter activist and attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds describes the events, case and protests over the police killing of unarmed African American Jamar Clark.
Real News Network November 18, 2015
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN:
Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.The shooting this week of Jamar Clark by two police officers in Minneapolis continues to garner attention worldwide as an international concern over police brutality increases, and as activists on the ground there have taken to streets in protest.
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Wednesday the two officers were identified, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, and each maintains that Clark was shot because of his interference in their work in handling his alleged abuse of his girlfriend, and that contrary to claims of family and activists, Clark was not in handcuffs at the time he was shot.
To discuss these claims, the case, and the broader movement in Minnesota around police violence and black life, is Nekima Levy-Pounds. Levy-Pounds is an award-winning professor of law, is a civil rights attorney, and a nationally recognized expert on a range of civil rights and social justice issues at the intersections of race, public policy, economic justice, public education, juvenile justice, and the criminal justice system. And she has been working closely with Black Lives Matter there in Minneapolis. Welcome, Nekima Levy-Pounds, to the Real News.
NEKIMA LEVY-POUNDS: Thanks for having me, Jared.
BALL: So if you would, just please update us on the latest. Again, as I mentioned in the intro, the two officers were named on Wednesday. And we’re looking to catch up on what folks there on the ground are doing, and what is it the protesters are calling for, and what again is the latest goings on there.
LEVY-POUNDS: So just to recap what happened in this case, during the early morning hours of Sunday, July–I’m sorry, Sunday, November 15, Jamar Clark was trying to flag down an ambulance that his girlfriend was in, because they were having some type of a dispute between the two. And her ankle was hurt in the process. So he tried to flag down the emergency vehicle to be able to check on his girlfriend. The EMT driver said no. Jamar, you know, yelled an expletive at the driver. And then the next thing you know, the police showed up on the scene.
Now, according to witnesses, they grabbed Jamar, one by each arm. The witnesses say that they placed him in handcuffs, and that one officer grabbed Jamar’s head in a chokehold and brought him to the ground. They said the other officer then put his knee in Jamar’s chest while he was on the ground. Meanwhile, the other officer stood over Jamar’s body, and shot him once in the head at point-blank range.
Now, part of the concern was the fact that this incident happened sometime between 12:00 and 1:00 AM. There are dozens of witnesses to this particular incident, because people were outside who lived in the apartment building, or standing out on their balconies. And then there’s a place called the Elk Lodge that’s right across the street from where this happened in Minneapolis that was just letting out at the time of the incident. And so after Jamar was shot in the head, the witnesses say that the police threw his lifeless body in the back of an ambulance and sent the body on its way. Meanwhile, dozens of police officers showed up on the scene. They pointed guns at witnesses, pulled out pepper spray. Some people were allegedly sprayed with pepper spray. And witnesses were pushed and shoved. The witnesses also said that officers waited roughly 45 minutes before they began even questioning anyone about what happened.
The crime scene was cleaned up very quickly, and people felt as though a coverup was underway. Meanwhile, at around 4:00 AM or sometime thereafter, Minneapolis police department officials held a press conference where they talked about the incident. They did not say that he was shot in the head, from my understanding. And they also claimed that he was not in handcuffs. So there’s a dispute about whether or not he was handcuffed. But from my perspective, it really doesn’t matter whether this man was handcuffed or not. The reality is that he was unarmed, and he was shot in the head by a Minneapolis police officer. It’s hard to think of any scenario in which it would be okay to shoot an unarmed person in the head at point-blank range.After Jamar’s body was taken away he was taken to a local hospital and placed on life support. Now, if witnesses contentions are accurate, they basically placed a corpse on life support. And we’ve seen other places around the country where the bodies or corpses have been handcuffed and taken away. So it’s just disturbing when you think about what is happening here in the city of Minneapolis in terms of the outcry from the community and feeling as though their concerns are falling on deaf ears. And then the things that are going on nationally, in terms of a string of shootings of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
So we just decided we’re not going to tolerate this. So the Minneapolis NAACP put out a statement early Sunday morning raising concerns about the shooting death of Jamar, and requesting a third party independent investigation. Initially the mayor’s office got the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension involved in the investigation. Now, that is a Minnesota law enforcement agency, responsible in part for investigating claims of police abuse. We were not satisfied with the involvement of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, because Minnesota law enforcement agencies have typically not held each other accountable for police abuse, excessive force, or misconduct in officer-involved shootings. So we do not trust them. And we have asked for a federal investigation.
After two days of protesting, the mayor has requested a federal investigation, although they’re continuing to have the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension involved. And again, we’re countering that, saying that the feds need to be solely involved in investigating the claims of murder on the part of the community. Of Jamar Clark at the hands of the police. And we also want federal prosecutors to get involved in prosecuting the case if there are probable cause findings that emerge. Part of the reason why we want federal intervention in terms of the prosecution is because the case would typically be prosecuted in Hennepin County. And what they typically do is to send officer-involved shootings to a grand jury.
Now, we already know what happened in Ferugson when Darren Wilson’s case was sent to a grand jury, and all of the problems that emerged and the ensuing distrust of the legal system. We have similar issues here, in terms of how our grand jury system has functioned and will function, and the fact that they, they never indict officers in these situations. And it’s not necessary under the law to involve a grand jury in these proceedings. If prosecutors want to prosecute based on probable cause, they can do so directly. So we’re saying based on these patterns and practices of failing to hold officers accountable for police abuse and misconduct, we want a complete and thorough federal investigation and prosecution.
BALL: Nekima Levy-Pounds, thank you for joining us here at the Real News, and we look forward to following this case, as you all continue to monitor the state’s response to what you and your other activists are calling for, and as they look to respond not only to you but to the case that emerges. But thank you again for joining us here at the Real News.
LEVY-POUNDS: Thank you for having me.BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore, saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.