Ferguson Comes to Minneapolis [Updated]

At 12:45 last Sunday morning, Minneapolis police were called to the scene of an assault that occurred less than two blocks from the nearest precinct station. A 24-year-old man named Jamar Clark had beaten his girlfriend. When police arrived, Clark had returned to the scene and, according to police accounts, was interfering with the paramedics who were trying to treat his girlfriend. A scuffle with one or more of the police officers ensued, and one of the officers shot Clark. Protesters initially said that Clark was killed, but he is being treated at a local hospital. His family says that he is brain dead as a result of the shooting.

There were various witnesses on or near the scene. Some say that Clark was already handcuffed when the police officer shot him. Minneapolis police Chief Janee Harteau says that the department’s initial information is that he was not handcuffed. I believe the incident may have been filmed as a matter of course by a dashcam in a police vehicle, but the extent to which the incident may have been recorded is at present unknown. No video has been released. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting as a matter of course. In addition, Mayor Betsy Hodges has already requested a federal investigation.

Protests have been going on more or less continuously since Sunday. Last night, Black Lives Matter protesters blocked a major highway for two hours:

By 6:45 p.m. Monday, about 100 protesters had moved across Interstate 94 south of Broadway, where they linked arms and blocked traffic lanes for more than two hours before State Patrol officers moved in and arrested 43 adults and eight juveniles, said Lt. Tiffani Schweigart of the State Patrol. …

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds could be seen kneeling on the road, hands up and willing to be the first to be arrested.



Among other things, Highway 94 connects Minneapolis and St. Paul. This was a major traffic disruption.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has done considerable research, and has itemized 138 cases in the State of Minnesota during the last 15 years in which someone died following an encounter with police. I haven’t tried to review news stories on all 138, but the ones I have looked at are consistent with the usual pattern. In the vast majority of cases, the police action (usually, but not always, a shooting) was plainly justified. Many of the perpetrators had shot at or otherwise attacked police officers. Quite a few were evidently on drugs and behaving dangerously and irrationally. Some were plainly instances of “suicide by cop.” The clearly justified shootings comprise the largest number, by far.

In a smaller number of cases–putting aside the handful, none in Minnesota that I am aware of, where criminal prosecution of an officer is actually warranted–the shooting may be defensible as a legal matter, but the incident reflects poor judgment or substandard police work on the part of the officer(s) involved. The Clark case might prove to be in that category. Granted that Clark needed to be restrained and arrested, did he have to be shot? The arresting officers had him outnumbered, I take it, and if needed, help was presumably just moments away, given the proximity of the precinct station. Perhaps he should have been clubbed over the head, but shot?

This is, of course, speculation in advance of the facts. If video exists, it may answer most questions; but an ultimate question of judgment may remain.

UPDATE: Jamar Clark has now been declared dead. The investigations continue.