Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, was shot and killed by two white Minneapolis police officers in November 2015. His death sparked an outcry in his community, as well as the country. According to 12 out of 20 witnesses, Clark had been handcuffed at the time of his shooting. It was discovered that he was also unarmed. NBC News reported on March 30, 2016, that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said, that the two police officers involved in the shooting incident; Mike Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were acting in self-defense. The police officers will not face charges in the November 2015 shooting death of Clark.
Freeman decided against a grand jury and ensured that he would be able to make the final decision in filing charges, after reviewing the case materials. Included in the documentation were 1,370 autopsy pages, 122 Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Reports, 97 Minneapolis Police Department reports, and 21 DNA reports. Freeman determined that this took him 31 hours to read, and review of the investigation, he was able to determine that the Minneapolis police officers will not face criminal charges in Clark’s shooting death.
The reports that Freeman read detail the shooting. On November 15, 2015, a morning emergency call of a domestic dispute between Clark and his girlfriend was made to authorities.The police report states that Clark had attacked his girlfriend and was intervening with the paramedics as they tried to place her in an ambulance. Ringgenberg and Schwarze were engaged in a physical fight with Clark before the shooting took place.
Prior to the shooting, Freeman says when the police arrived, they asked Clark to remove his hands from his pockets, and he refused. They wrestled him to the ground in an attempt to handcuff him. Ringgenberg alleges that he felt his gun move as he was on top of Clark, shifting from his right hip to the small of his back. The report says that Clark went for the officer’s gun, prompting Ringgenberg to say to his partner, “He’s got my gun.” Schwarze told Clark to release the weapon, or he would fire as he held the gun to the 24-year old’s mouth. Clark allegedly said, “I’m ready to die.” Schwarze heard his partner say, “Shoot him.” He shot Clark near the front of his head. The entire incident took place within 61 seconds, and there was no weapon found on Clark. CNN reports that Freeman maintains that the officers believed Clark posed a threat to them and the general public, thereby justifying the fatal shooting. Clark died in the hospital the next day.
There was unrest prior to the county attorney’s decision not to charge the police officers. CNN reports that Clark’s shooting death prompted a number of rallies and protests against the police department, as details about his fatal shooting and the preceding scuffle were slow to arrive to the public. Clark’s death was another in a string of nation-wide shootings involving the police and unarmed Black men. Protesters stopped traffic and held a massive 18-day demonstration outside of the Minneapolis police precinct, which was marred with gunfire and resulted in five people being injured. The American Liberties Union in Minnesota and the state’s NAACP chapter have sued the Department of Public Safety in order to have access to the video of the police shooting.
CNN says that while the police report and a lawyer maintain that Clark had control of the officer’s gun, witnesses assert that Clark was already handcuffed at the time of his shooting. Freeman addresses the claims of 20 witnesses. Two people say that Clark wasn’t handcuffed, six people say they aren’t sure, and 12 people are positive he was restrained during the shooting. However, they can’t agree upon whether his hands were cuffed in front of him or behind him, or whether it was only his left hand. The attorney says that these are conflicting claims, and furthermore, forensic evidence shows that Clark didn’t have any wrist wounds from being handcuffed during the fight. Despite this, there was blood found on the handcuffs. However, the forensic examination indicates that they were on the ground at the time of the shooting.
NBC relayed that Minneapolis was readying itself for more protests in the wake of the decision not to charge the officers with Clark’s fatal shooting. Police Chief Jane Harteau released a video statement on March 24, 2016, describing the intention of the police department, which is to support people’s First Amendment Right to demonstrate and keeping the public and police officers safe. Harteau found it important to remark on this, due to past incidents involving the public and police. The police sprayed a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters with pepper spray, while some in the crowd threw rocks, bricks and bottles in retaliation.
As for the police officers, both Schwarze and Ringgenberg are seven-year veterans of the Minneapolis department. Both have been placed on paid leave while the investigation has gone on, yet they have been on desk duty. While Ringgenberg, the officer who was on top of Clark when he died, has not had any complaints filed against him, the same can not be said for Schwarze. The officer who placed the muzzle of his gun near Clark’s head and pulled the trigger has had a prior issue with excessive force, Two weeks before Clark’s death, Schwarze was named in a lawsuit filed against him, In 2011, as a police officer in the Minneapolis suburbs, Schwarze used a stun gun during a traffic stop and threatened to beat those inside the car.
According to NBC, Freeman acknowledges that while a police officer’s job is dangerous and requires them to make split-second shooting decisions, it would appear that the lack of trust between the police and the community only makes things more difficult and potentially fatal, resulting in other shooting deaths. Freeman added that the police must be willing to withdraw tactically, without shooting a suspect, and if force is necessary, use the smallest amount at hand.
Meanwhile, in the hours after the decision not to charge the two police officers with the shooting death of Clark, protests are being planned in conjunction with various civil rights and Black Lives Matter contingents gathering in Minneapolis to march and voice their discontent. A hashtag, JusticeforJamar, has emerged on Twitter and various other social media outlets, a sign that the public will not take this latest news of police shooting, and subsequent validation by the state, in silence.
By Juanita Lewis
Edited by Cathy Milne
NBC News: Jamar Clark: No Charges Against Minneapolis Cops Involved in Shooting
CNN: No charges for Minneapolis officers in Jamar Clark death, prosecutor says
Tumblr: Ferguson Response Network, Justice4Jamar Post Announcement Gathering
Image Courtesy of Robb “Doc” Wilson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License