Members of Black Lives Matter form an encampment outside the 4th precinct in Minneapolis.

World

11.24.2015

White Shooters Target Protesters in Minneapolis: What We Know

It’s been two years since the #BlackLivesMatter movement emerged from the tragic murder of African-American teen Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. National dialogues have emerged, presidential campaigns have been interrupted, and tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against police brutality. Because of Black Lives Matter, the country—and the world—has learned about the lives and deaths of Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more.

The movement has been a step in the right direction. It’s contributed to a much-needed and uncomfortable move toward the self-reflection necessary to begin healing the deep wounds of racism that the United States is synonymous with—but it’s still not enough. Thus far in 2015, black people are still three times more likely than white people to be killed by police.

While politicians refocus their energy and racism on Syrian refugees, people of color continue to fight for their right to live without a fear of death. On November 15, 24-year-old Jamar Clark became one of the hundreds of other people of color whose lives have been cut short this year at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. Details regarding his death have been hazy and video footage has yet to be released, which led to ongoing peaceful protests. Peaceful, that is, until last night, when white gunmen shot several unarmed protestors. So, what the hell is going on in Minneapolis?

The Appalling Death of Jamar Clark

Police at the scene early Tuesday where gunmen shot five people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis on Monday night.
Police at the scene early Tuesday where gunmen shot five people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis on Monday night.

It began with a domestic-violence call, and ended with an unarmed man’s life cut short by an officer’s gun. Although fine details remain hazy, it is known that an officer shot Clark at the intersection of James and Plymouth avenues across the street from an Elks Lodge at about 1AM early Sunday morning. Police and ambulances were responding to the call about domestic violence between Clark and his girlfriend. The Minneapolis PD has publicly stated that Clark was a suspect in the domestic assault case, and interfered with responders trying to provide aid to the victim when she was being put into the ambulance.

It is at this point of interference where the scene went from an investigation to a murder in front of a crowd of witnesses. Authorities have said Clark was shot during a struggle with police and was not handcuffed, which is a stark contrast to the witness statements from the scene. As Jason Sole, criminal justice chair for the Minneapolis NAACP, told KARE-TV:

“Every witness account I heard said he was handcuffed. Every witness account. Put a knee on him and shot in the head. That’s the account I’ve heard from young people, older people, etc,”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president (with megaphone), speaks at a candlelight vigil held for Jamar Clark.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president (with megaphone), speaks at a candlelight vigil held for Jamar Clark.

Among the many statements made by witnesses, it is the words of Teto Wilson that have captured the most attention.

“Clark was just laying there. He was not resisting arrest. Two officers were surrounding the victim on the ground, an officer maneuvered his body around to shield Jamar’s body, and I heard the shot go off.”

From there, police loaded Clark’s unconscious body into the ambulance and took him to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead upon arrival and died the following night after being taken off life support.

It is known that the police have video footage obtained from the ambulance, a public housing building, cellphones of bystanders and a police mobile video station—although no footage shows the shooting in its entirety. Unsurprisingly, there is no video from any police squad car or officer body cameras. The footage has yet to be released to the public on the grounds that “releasing the footage now would taint the investigation” (which is being carried out by Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state’s top investigative agency). The FBI is also conducting a civil rights investigation into the incident, to determine whether police intentionally violated Clark’s civil rights through use of excessive force. While the investigation continues, the officers involved in the shooting, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, have been placed on paid leave.

Jamar Clark’s Murder Unites A Community

In the aftermath of the death, an outpouring of support has brought together the community and Black Lives Matter activists who have led a series of protests to support and bring attention to the case. Protestors have overtaken the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis since the night of the killing and have also staged sit-ins inside of the lobby in collaboration with the local NAACP and Black Lives Matter organizers. Along with these public protestors, the organizers have also released a list of five demands via a Facebook post.

They want to see footage from the incident, they want an independent investigation (not by another police agency), they want the media to cover eye-witness testimony (not just the police’s point of view), they want full community oversight with full disciplinary power, and they want officers to live in the communities they serve.

In addition to the protests at the 4th Precinct, activists made headlines when 300 of them blocked traffic on I-94 a day after the shooting. Police arrested 43 adults and 8 juveniles who refused to break ranks and allow traffic to pass. Besides this incident and a standoff last Wednesday after police began to break down an encampment, protests have been relatively quiet up until last night.

White Shooters Target Black Protesters

In the past week, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings have released controversial statements saying they are more concerned about terrorism caused by white men than any Syrian refugees. Last night, these concerns were confirmed, after three white male suspects wearing masks and bulletproof vests opened fire on the Black Lives Matters protestors.

A witness on the scene, Oluchi Omeoga, told the Associated Press that prior to the shooting, she saw three people in masks “who weren’t supposed to be there.” Organizers approached the suspects who had been behaving suspiciously, and began to turn them away from the site of the rally. These groups of white agitators had become a regular sight since Friday night, as demonstrators reported that the men filmed protesters and refused to answer questions about why they were there day after day.

A demonstrator spoke about his encounter with the assailants who shot five protesters earlier in the night with those gathered in front of the Minneapolis Police 4th Precinct headquarters early Tuesday morning.
A demonstrator spoke about his encounter with the assailants who shot five protesters earlier in the night, in front of the Minneapolis Police 4th Precinct headquarters early Tuesday morning.

As they were being led away, the white men unleashed terror on the crowd as they began to shoot at protestors. Five people were wounded after victims were shot in the leg, arm and stomach. They were taken to the hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening. Police responded quickly, and began to search for the suspects who fled immediately after opening fire. Thus far, only one 23-year-old man was arrested in connection with the shooting.

In response to the violence seen last night, the family of Jamar Clark has called for an end to the occupation outside of the 4th Precinct citing safety concerns. They urged those still demonstrating to “move onto the next step.” This next step will be announced later tonight, following a meeting with community members about strategy. As protestors wait to hear more from the family, a crowd has been gathering since morning outside of the precinct despite the calls for an end to the encampment.

Stay tuned to Milk for more updates on this ongoing situation.

Images via Jim Mone, Jeff Wheeler, Stephen Maturen,  and Twitter.

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