In the wake of Minneapolis’ tentative $200,000 settlement with the adoptive father of Jamar Clark, a group of Fulton residents advocating for police reform is angry about disparate outcomes in lawsuits brought forth by families of people killed by police.
Todd Schuman, a spokesman for the group Justice for Justine, said the city’s settlement with James Clark is an example of the “two systems of justice that are in play.”
He said his group “strongly feels” the Minneapolis Police Department was culpable for Jamar Clark’s death “in every way that they were” for the death of their neighbor Justine Ruszczyk Damond, whom a Minneapolis officer fatally shot in 2017.
Minneapolis police officer Dustin Schwarze shot Clark in the early-morning hours of Nov. 15, 2015, as Clark and Schwarze’s partner, Mark Ringgenberg, grappled on the ground outside of a North Minneapolis apartment building. Clark died the next day. The high-profile shooting led to an 18-day protest outside of Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct police station.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file charges against the two officers, noting that Clark grabbed Ringgenberg’s gun during their struggle and ignored commands to let go of it.
The U.S. Justice Department also declined to file charges against the two officers.
Damond’s family settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with the city for $20 million in May, days after a jury convicted Mohamed Noor, the officer who killed Damond, of third-degree murder and manslaughter. The advocacy group Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar subsequently called on Minneapolis to settle James Clark’s excessive force lawsuit for the same amount.
Schuman, whose group has called for policing changes and has supported families of people killed by police, said he didn’t want to comment on the “right way” to resolve police shooting lawsuits. But he said that “if the city decides that Justine’s life is worth $20 million, then that’s what Jamar’s life is worth.”
“A life is a life is a life,” he said.
Activists have said that the fact that the family of Clark, a black man, was offered a settlement that’s 1% of what was awarded to the family of Damond, a white woman, is evidence of systemic bias.
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong has called the settlement offer “racist and offensive.”
“This is beyond sickening,” she wrote on Facebook after the offer was announced. “Why are we always fed the scraps, when we are the ones who bear the brunt of police violence, racism, and discrimination?”
Schuman criticized the officers involved in Clark’s shooting, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, for “initiating” the chain of events that led to Clark’s death in November 2015.
Justice for Justine, formed in the wake of Damond’s death, has “semiregular” meetings and a core membership of about eight members, Schuman said. He said the group has attended demonstrations after other police shootings and planned to attend a rally in response to the first meeting of a new statewide working group focused on police shootings. Activists have protested the working group, saying its membership should include more representatives of families affected by police shootings.
Schuman said Justice for Justine plans on continuing its push for reform and education efforts when it comes to police violence, which he added isn’t a “small problem” or one limited to certain areas of Minneapolis.
“This is endemic to the way policing is done,” he said, “and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
The Minneapolis City Council could vote Aug. 23 on whether to approve the settlement with James Clark.