NAACP holds rally, vigil for Jamar Clark

NAACP Minneapolis President Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks to the crowd gathered for Friday's vigil. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

NAACP President Cornwell William Brooks and Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, led a rally and vigil for Jamar Clark Friday evening outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct.

Hundreds gathered with candles and held up their phones’ flashlights as they listened to community leaders honor Clark and make pleas for unity and peace. Longtime civil rights leader Josie Johnson and former Macalester professor Mahmoud El-Kati also addressed the crowd.  

Levy-Pounds said: “This should not only happen when there’s a tragedy, but when there is not a tragedy. This is the kind of the unity we need in the heart of our community. … Today we stand united demanding justice for Jamar.” 

Hani Ali and Khadra Ali, both of South Minneapolis, have been involved in the 4th Precinct occupation since Sunday, Nov. 15 — the day Clark was fatally shot by police. They warmed their hands by a fire outside the police station before Friday’s vigil. They said they intended to stay at the encampment until tapes showing what happened to Clark are made public. 

They have slept in tents and in cars during the week. “It’s been really empowering,” Khadra Ali said of the experience.

Gov. Mark Dayton met with Clark’s family, Black Lives Matter leaders and Congressman Keith Ellison on Saturday. They were joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Anthony Newby of Organizing for Change on the phone.

“I expressed my sympathy to the members of Mr. Clark’s family and his community for their loss,” he said. 

Dayton also called on federal investigators to provide tapes of the incident to Clark’s family and release them to the public as soon as it would not jeopardize their investigation. He also urged Department of Justice lawyers and the U.S. Attorney to investigate allegations of civil rights violations of demonstrators at the 4th Precinct.

“I also reiterate my call for a Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature to address the racial disparities in North Minneapolis and elsewhere in Minnesota,” he said. 

Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council President Barb Johnson issued statements supportive of the Minneapolis Police Department following the governor’s remarks.

“Minneapolis is grieving right now, and I share the sadness that many feel in our city this week. During this time, police officers have shown restraint and professionalism under very challenging conditions, and most protesters have gathered peacefully,” Hodges said. “I have asked officers and protesters to continue to exercise restraint and respect as we continue to balance the need to grieve and protest peacefully with the need to ensure everyone’s safety. Day in and day out, we ask officers to do the difficult work of keeping our city and our people safe. I know they will continue to do their best to protect neighbors and protesters from violent elements who are out only to do harm.”

Hodges said this should be a turning point for Minneapolis.

“I know that we have it in us, as a city and a people, to use this moment to recommit to transforming our city into the One Minneapolis we know we can and must become,” Hodges said. 

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At Friday’s City Council meeting, three community activists with Communities United Against Policy Brutality were removed from Council chambers for attempting to speak out about Clark’s death. Public testimony is typically only taken during public hearings at Council committee meetings. A motion offered by City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) to suspend rules to allow for public comments was voted down. 

They passed out fliers outlining how the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) has handled police complaints in the past two and half years. Of 962 community complaints submitted to the OPCR, only one officer has been disciplined, which resulted in a two-week unpaid suspension and written reprimand, according to the group’s research. 

Protesters continue to demonstrate outside the precinct station on Plymouth Avenue following a volatile night on Wednesday with tense confrontations with the police.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis leaders say they are calling for a federal civil rights investigation into police tactics used against protesters. They allege an officer punched a woman in the face before macing a crowd of protesters, pointed weapons in the faces of several people, including Congressman Keith Ellison’s son, and that police shot a 14 year old with a marker bullet, among other abuses.

“We understand the frustration of community members who may take actions not sanctioned by our group; this is a time of grief and rage and we remain committed to nonviolent direct action,” Black Lives Matter leaders wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon. “… We call on the City Council and city leadership to take dramatic and bold action to stop another shooting death of an unarmed black person from happening.”

Harteau said she hasn’t received any formal complaints about the conduct of police officers Wednesday night at a press briefing Thursday afternoon. She said the conduct of officers has been professional and they have shown restraint in dealing with protesters. 

Harteau said the protests have drawn agitators from outside Minnesota. Some have thrown bricks and Molotov cocktails at police and caused significant damage to police property, she said. 

Police arrested two men for tagging the 4th Precinct with profanities Thursday night.  

Hodges said she’s been in constant contact with Harteau in recent days and said the chief is charged with making tactical decisions about the MPD’s approach to dealing with protesters. She said she is accountable, however, for the oversight of the MPD. 

Minneapolis Council President Barb Johnson was also critical of Council members who joined protests Wednesday night and have questioned the tactics of the MPD.

At a press conference following the one held by city leaders at the 4th Precinct Thursday, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said the officers’ actions involved in Clark’s shooting death will be “proven justifiable.”

He sharply criticized the actions of Harteau and Hodges for allowing demonstrators to remain outside the 4th Precinct. “It’s a police station, not a campground,” he said.

Kroll and Harteau got into a heated exchange about activities at the 4th Precinct on WCCO Radio on Friday

Stephen Green, national youth and college director for the NAACP, has also arrived in the city. At a briefing with reporters Thursday, he said: “We are here to encourage all police officers to use minimum use of force and to express  sincere restraint. We don’t want this situation to turn volatile. We are here to protect all demonstrators and protesters as well.”

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Faith leaders, Ellison and City Council Members Lisa Bender, Cam Gordon and Alondra Cano joined hundreds gathered for peaceful protests Thursday night outside the precinct. They called on BCA investigators to release video footage of Clark’s shooting, which has been requested by his family and Black Lives Matter. Hodges was also confronted by activists who have been critical of her support of police tactics toward protesters.

“I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr. Jamar Clark. My heart breaks for the tragedy of losing a young man from our community,” Ellison said. “… I urge the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Department of Justice to release video or audio recordings in their possession of the incident that resulted in Mr. Clark’s death. This would send a message to our community that the process will be transparent and open.”

He also commended people who have gathered to protest peacefully, but denounced those who have turned to violence.  

 “But how do we move forward to make things better in our community? I call on all of us to be our best selves and move beyond anger to dialogue and problem solving. This is the only way forward. We must come together to heal our community and work together toward justice and fairness. I call on demonstrators to remain peaceful, and on law enforcement to exercise restraint,” Ellison said. 

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also weighed in on Twitter: “We stand with those who want the truth to be revealed. #Justice4Jamar”

State Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL -59B), who represents downtown and North Minneapolis neighborhoods, said the five days since Clark’s death have been “painful for our community and Jamar’s family.

“It’s clear that all Jamar’s family has sought is to share how much they loved Jamar and their desire not to see any more violence come from this tragedy,” he said. “Those of us who have stood together at the 4th Precinct are doing what we can to seek answers for Jamar and our community. What I’ve seen from those demonstrating at the 4th Precinct has been nothing but peaceful. While there may be some bad actors, we must remember that the police have guns and the protesters don’t. Minneapolis is better than what happened last night and must strive to do better. I urge everyone involved to move forward in a respectful manner. Our community and Jamar’s family deserve nothing short of peace from all of us.”

SEIU Minnesota and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) have also issued statements condemning the police response to protests Wednesday night.

Here’s an excerpt from a statement from SEIU Minnesota State Council, which has been a big supporter of Hodges:

“SEIU members endorsed and were some of the strongest supporters in getting Mayor Hodges elected, in no small part because of her commitment to closing our city’s awful racial inequalities. For that commitment to have a chance of becoming a reality, Mayor Hodges must engage directly to deescalate the current situation brought on by the police and reengage in productive dialogue with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis to solve not only this situation, but the gnawing racial divides tormenting our city. We believe this moment is an essential test of whether our city moves forward as one, or the cracks of inequality and injustice split wide open. We need leadership of the Mayor more than ever, and we look to support the Mayor in taking immediate action to support those calling for justice.” 

And here’s an excerpt from NOC:

“The city of Minneapolis chose last night to use excessive police force to break up a peaceful encampment of people protesting excessive police force. The show of police force we saw in Minneapolis last night, echoing similar displays of police violence throughout the country following fatal police shootings of unarmed black men, women, and transgender people, is unacceptable in any city–and particularly horrifying to see in our home city that prides itself on its “progressive” values. …

The city of Minneapolis’ violence against a grieving community demanding justice is a political choice that has ravaged the already fragile trust between the community and police. We are thankful that no one was seriously hurt last night by police violence. We fear that if the city’s leadership does not immediately change course, this will not remain the case. Our city needs strong leadership that will end police violence, not exacerbate it.”

Hodges, who met with protesters on Thursday, issued the following statement Wednesday night:

I understand that emotions are running high in the community and across the city. I share many of the emotions that people are feeling in Minneapolis today. I firmly believe in everyone’s right to protest and understand that people want to have places where they can gather and do that peacefully. We also want to ensure everyone’s safety. Chief Harteau and I are asking officers to exercise maximum restraint, and are asking protesters to act peacefully. I thank the many officers and protesters who are doing just that.