Black Lives Matter


The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar Clark held a rally and march despite frigid temps on Dec. 19.  Hundreds of peaceful protestors representing a diverse coalition of civil rights, community, labor and faith groups marched for several hours from the 4th Police Precinct to Downtown Minneapolis.  Spurred by the death of Jamar Clark, a black citizen fatally shot by police, the marchers represented a growing coalition of concern over well documented racial disparities and injustice in Minneapolis.
Speakers at the march addressed the many ways these inequities impact people of color. They were sometimes difficult to hear above the drone of helicopters flying overhead.  Police escorts were present and appeared to act mostly to control traffic.
The first stop of the march was at a community shrine at the site where Jamar Clark was fatally shot.  Community activist Mel Reeves reiterated the coalition demands:
-Release the tapes recorded during the time of the shooting by police officers.
-No to the grand jury, recognizing that a very small minority of grand jury trials of police killings result in criminal charges.
-That the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the homicide as well as police abuses against peaceful protestors at the 4th Precinct.  (“If I did something to you they would arrest me and charge me. So the police have commited a crime … We want them arrested and charged.”)
-Establish real policies to close the racial equity gaps in Minneapolis.
I overheard Reeves talking to a reporter, “Nobody wants to be out here in the cold. But we have no choice. If we don’t protest, if we don’t raise a ruckus then nothing will happen.”
A growing public realization of significant racial equity gaps in Minnesota have been helped by analysis from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which found racial disparities to be some of the worst in the nation.   Communities of color have been found to be disproportionately impacted by poverty, unemployment, housing insecurity and cuts to education. Black communities make up less than 6% of the population in Minnesota, yet 35% of the prison system.  In addition, a recent University of Minnesota study found that Minnesota’s pollutant exposure discrepancies between whites and non-whites is the 15th largest in the country.
For their analysis, the ACLU obtained arrest data from the Minneapolis Police Department for low-level offenses that occurred from Jan. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2014. The data includes information about 96,975 arrests.  They published their findings in a report called “Picking Up the Pieces, Policing in America.”
“The numbers show a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level offenses, particularly in the neighborhoods within North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis  and the city center, where more low-income and minority communities live … During the 33 months that this study covers, the Minneapolis Police Department made 96,975 low-level arrests. That’s almost 100 low-level arrests per day. Overall, Black people were 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people, and Native Americans were 8.6 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people.”
In August of 2013 the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the city paid out $14 million in damages for alleged police misconduct between 2006 and 2012. Even so, Minneapolis police were rarely disciplined or found to have done anything wrong.  At the same time, a police conduct review office, set up by Police Chief Harteau, found that none of the first 439 complaints against law enforcement resulted in a police officer being disciplined.
The march continued several miles to the HERC garbage incinerator. Community activist Roxxanne O’Brien emphasized the connection between civil rights and environmental justice.  She noted that zip codes 55411 and 55412 are the highest areas of the city for asthma.  She said that these communities, with high proportions of people of color, on the North Side are disproportionately impacted by emissions from industrial polluters like the Garbage Burner (HERC) and highway emissions from Interstate 94. She warned that the contract for the burner was expiring in 2018 and that a lot of organizing would be necessary to shut it down rather than extending the contract.
She also called on citizens to ask the City Council to pass a resolution on Jan. 15 establishing Green Zones to “transform a highly polluted, economically deprived neighborhood into a healthy, vibrant environment with healthy businesses and policies.”
Protesters continued down 6th Street and took a turn down Nicollet Mall, rather than following the police escorts, to rally for livable wages in front of Macy’s department store.  15 Now MN organizer Ginger Jentzen called for “a united struggle against racism, calling on all working people in the struggle for $15 and workers’ rights, and the wider labor movement, to stand in solidarity with Justice for Jamar.”
The march continued to the County Juvenile Justice Center, hearing from several youth who had experienced the juvenile detention system as a person of color.  As the ACLU analysis reports, “white youth make up 40% of the city’s juvenile population but only 14% of youth low-level arrests. Black youth, on the other hand, make up 30% of the city’s juvenile population but accounted for 60% of the youth low-level arrests.”  The report contends that “bringing youth into the criminal justice system at an early age … makes them more likely to stay in the criminal justice system throughout their childhood and into adulthood.”
According to Judge Kevin Burke, these disparities of treatment are not isolated instances. “It’s the whole system,” he says in the ACLU report, “that is just kind of topsy-turvy when it comes to poor people who are people of color.” The report concludes: “Poor Minneapolitans of color pay more dearly for the mistakes they make than more affluent white citizens do.”
The march concluded in front of the Government Center, where a representative from AFSCME Local 3800 at the University of Minnesota declared that civil rights is a union issue and racial disparities are a union concern.  This reflects a growing number of unions aligning with the Justice for Jamar coalition, including SEIU Health-care Minnesota, American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Communication Workers of America.  In November, Unions had held a separate rally in support of Justice for Jamar, recognizing the connection between labor rights and human rights and the harmful effects of racism in the workplace and society at large.
The march concluded peacefully. It has been noted that the Minneapolis City Council has attempted to address some of the racial disparities cited regarding law enforcement by eliminating low-level offenses like spitting and lurking. But there is still a sense that the city has a long way to go.
In May 2015, months before Jamar Clark was killed, NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter president, Nekima Levy-Pounds, was quoted by Al-Jazeera America: “We are in a danger zone right now. If you look at the big picture, African Americans and Native Americans in Minneapolis experience oppression in every key indicator of quality of life. When you couple that with police brutality, it leads to uprisings like we see across the country. I hope things don’t rise to the level of uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore. But we’re not far from that.”

One Comment:

  1. Good article. I agree, from what I know, with the “danger zone” part. Combine this with the growth of “conservative” political power in Minnesota (ie, Koch, “Republican”)and we are in scary times.

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