Restoring humanity warrants a different response

Restoring humanity warrants a different response

Warrant Forgiveness Day is this Saturday, May 20th, 10am-4pm, info here and here.

On Mother’s Day, Black Lives Matter organizers across the nation bailed out hundreds of mothers who had been held in jail, separated from their children, while awaiting trial on various low-level charges. In addition to benefitting the families directly involved, this action highlighted racial and economic disparities in our judicial system. In Minnesota, activists are also embracing a two-pronged approach of providing immediate practical assistance to people caught in the system, while pushing for structural changes in state and county laws and policies.

A recent ACLU study established that black and Native American people in Minneapolis were 8-9 times more likely to be arrested for alleged low-level offenses than whites. Subsequently, all Minneapolis police officers were required to complete implicit bias training, which is a useful initial step. Hiring more officers who live within the city and who have ties to the communities they serve and protect will also help reduce racial disparities in arrest rates. Groups including the Minneapolis NAACP and the ACLU of Minnesota also tackled the issue by successfully advocating for the repeal of vague and outdated statutes, such as those prohibiting spitting and lurking, which were being disproportionately applied against minorities. Indeed, a key recommendation of the Campaign Zero criminal justice reform organization is to decriminalize or de-prioritize policing enforcement of minor offenses such as marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, bicycling on the sidewalk, and so forth; we would like to see this approach expanded in Minnesota.

Last year, the Star Tribune reported that about half of the bookings into downtown Minneapolis jails were for low-level misdemeanors. Many people were arrested and brought to jail because they had missed a previous court appearance and had a bench warrant issued for them. A quarter of those warrants were issued for failing to appear for minor traffic infractions. If you have a warrant out and you are pulled over for failing to come to a complete stop or failing to signal a lane change, you can be arrested. If you don’t have money to post bail, you could lose your job, and your family would be destabilized. This happens across the country much more often than it should, and it happens in Minnesota too. Simply paying bail is immediately beneficial, as with the coordinated campaign for Mother’s Day by Black Lives Matter or ongoing efforts by local non-profits (including the new MN Freedom Fund). Systemic change is also needed. Hennepin County is now processing and releasing more people who would previously have been jailed, and is investigating reforms to the bail system. We would also like to see judges empowered to waive fines and fees for low-income people, and a state-wide ban on the issuance of arrest warrants for failure to appear for a traffic infraction.

This Saturday is Warrant Forgiveness Day in Hennepin County. The Minneapolis NAACP, the ACLU of Minnesota, and other organizations have been working with Hennepin County through a grant provided by the United Way with the goal of clearing up hundreds of misdemeanor warrants. There are over 11,000 active misdemeanor warrants and we want to help people who have feared arrest at any moment because of missed court dates or inability to pay fines to finally break the chains. We understand that some community members have questioned the validity of this initiative but it’s legit. We have many community members who simply can’t afford to miss a day of work to address their legal matter. We don’t have night courts, which causes many citizens to choose between clearing up a warrant or earning a paycheck. This Saturday, we look forward to assisting those negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. If you know someone who can benefit from this service, have them show up on May 20th from 10am-4pm at the Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St, Minneapolis to remove their warrants. The goal is to get people back to work and civically engaged.

This is an incredible effort that will tremendously benefit the community and it would not have been possible without the collaboration of several agencies. We at the Minneapolis NAACP are glad to participate and support. Our concern is that without structural change, this is bound to be a beneficial but temporary bandaid. Next year there will be more, and more, and more. We will continuously seek innovative solutions to help those negatively impacted by the criminal justice system.

No justice from MPD investigation

No justice from MPD investigation

MPD tries to close the book on the Jamar Clark killing, but their misleading Internal Affairs report cannot hide policy violations

By Rachel Wannarka and Jason Sole (with editing assistance from Brendan Miller)

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Image of Chief Harteau and Mayor Hodges from press conference October 21, 2016

On Friday, Minneapolis police Chief Janeé Harteau (alongside Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges) announced the results of the MPD Internal Affairs investigation into the actions of officers Schwarze and Ringgenberg in the case of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man shot in the head on November 2015. It is perhaps not surprising that the police cleared themselves of any wrongdoing – though we had hoped for progress, this was business as usual. But it is jarring that their Internal Affairs overview and statements by Chief Harteau include misleading claims about the events surrounding the unnecessary and tragic police killing of Jamar Clark.

We have previously documented the numerous policy violations in this case. Along with the family and community, we were disappointed to hear Chief Harteau state “After looking at all the evidence and all the verifiable facts in this case, I can say with absolute certainty that I fully support the actions of Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze the morning of November 15th. We did not find any violation of MPD policy.”

The released MPD Internal Affairs overview fails to even address many of the violations previously noted, including false statements made by both Schwarze and Ringgenberg to the BCA. Contrary to Chief Harteau’s characterization, the overview does describe actions constituting several indisputable policy violations. Rather than calling the violations what they are, the overview manufactures justifications.

For example, quoting from MPD policy 4-218: “The driver shall wear the wireless microphone, verify that it is turned on and shall be responsible for ensuring that it is working properly throughout the shift.” Schwarze’s policy violation as the driver in not wearing the microphone is excused: “The common practice at the time was to store the wireless microphones in the squad.” As another example, quoting from MPD policy 7-810.03: “The Incident Commander at the scene shall promptly assign an Escort to stay with each Involved Officer… Escorts shall keep the Involved Officers separate from other Involved and Witness Officers.” But Schwarze and Ringgenberg were transported back to the precinct in the same vehicle; this is excused as “reasonable under the circumstances… A growing group of people were gathering near the scene… Additional escort officers or squad cars for separate transport were not available at the scene.” Addressing this policy violation by blaming the crowd that was concerned about Clark being shot is obscene. It is simply false that other squad cars were not on scene; the transporting squad 425 arrived at 00:51:24 after at least 411 and 420 were already there.

Where the Internal Affairs overview attempts to argue that policy was not violated, for example with Schwarze’s failure to activate the vehicle emergency lights and consequently the dashcam, it makes misleading claims and/or disregards published evidence. Here is what Schwarze told the BCA: “When we got in the vehicle we looked at the computer screen that’s in our car and there was call notes in the call that said request police respond code 3. Which means, it’s urgent.” But the overview presents the call as routine in an attempt to justify this violation; acknowledging that “A ‘code 3’ response is a request for emergency services where officers would activate lights and siren”, it is claimed “‘Assist EMS’ is a routine dispatch and is not treated as an incident where officers typically respond with lights and siren.” No mention is made of Schwarze’s own prior testimony to the BCA that they treated the call as code 3. Schwarze told the BCA that they didn’t activate the emergency lights because “there was no stop signs or red lights or anything this was a very quick within three blocks” but there is a stop sign at Morgan and traffic signal lights at Logan along the route. The overview carefully skips over Schwarze’s false statement about the stop sign: “The officers indicated there were no red lights or intersections to clear and they, therefore, did not activate their lights or sirens.”

Incredibly, the Internal Affairs overview relies exclusively on Ringgenberg’s self-interested testimony to the BCA to argue that his takedown was not a prohibited choke hold: “Officer Ringgenberg did not use a ‘choke hold’ technique. Officer Ringgenberg stated that he grabbed Mr. Clark around the upper chest to bring him to the ground. (Ringgenberg statement BCA).” But witnesses characterized Ringgenberg’s takedown as a choke hold and we view the ambulance video as supporting the witness accounts rather than that of the involved officer.

Chief Harteau echoed Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman in claiming “DNA evidence does show Clark grabbed Officer Ringgenberg’s holster and gun” but this has been extensively debunked; for example, expert Patrick Sullivan told MPR that DNA is “not a truth serum… I might shake your hand and touch [my] gun and you never touched the gun but your DNA might end up on the gun.” It is easy to conceive of how Clark’s DNA could have been indirectly transferred by Ringgenberg when he grabbed Clark’s hands, rolled around on top of him, then drew his gun after Clark was shot. (Indirect transfer explains how Ringgenberg’s own shirt had Rayann Hayes’ blood on it, even though he never touched her because she was already in the ambulance.) There were no fingerprints from Clark on Ringgenberg’s gun.

Both the overview and Chief Harteau describe video as showing Ringgenberg was “pulled back” down or toward Clark, but (just like Freeman when he declined charges) there is no acknowledgment that the portion of video where Ringgenberg’s body enters the frame visibly twisting back and forth on top of Clark covers the seconds immediately after Clark had already been shot by Schwarze at 00:50:02.

There is no attempt to explain why not a single witness, including the EMTs, heard any of the dialogue alleged by the officers including Ringgenberg’s purported screams of “he’s got my gun” or why surveillance video shows bystanders strongly reacting to the shot but not particularly to Ringgenberg’s purported screams.

There are also no answers provided to open questions including why the officers took so long to reach 1611 Plymouth after acknowledging the initial call, whether the officers have a history of violence that repeated with Jamar Clark (both Schwarze and Ringgenberg have been accused of brutality in ways that oddly echo some aspects of the Clark incident), why evidence pictures of Schwarze after the incident showed him in his shirt rather than the jacket he was wearing and why testing after the BCA requested the uniforms (from Schwarze’s attorney) showed no blood at all on Schwarze’s jacket or pants, whether Schwarze and Ringgenberg reviewed video evidence from the ambulance prior to providing their statements to the BCA, why their statements were not obtained within the specified 48 hour interval after the incident, and why witnesses at the scene were essentially intimidated and coerced into leaving (including through the apparently unauthorized use of a chemical agent) rather than asked for immediate statements about the incident.

History teaches us not to expect justice when police are tasked with investigating themselves. Though Ringgenberg and Schwarze arguably should never have been hired, and though their actions that night should easily have disqualified them from their positions with MPD, they are now free to return to the same streets on which they killed Jamar Clark one year ago.

Joint Hennepin/Ramsey juvenile facility—Our youth deserve better

Joint Hennepin/Ramsey juvenile facility—Our youth deserve better

by Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka, Minneapolis NAACP

As we are demanding accountability of law enforcement officials, it is just as critical to demand accountability of the professionals who are tasked with helping youth transition into adulthood. Community members are meeting tonight for a “community engagement session” at the Minneapolis Urban League to discuss just that. Ramsey and Hennepin counties contend that it is in the best interest of youth to spend millions of dollars to build a new secure juvenile facility, but many community members believe that it will be just another prison. It is extremely difficult to believe that with all of the negative publicity Minnesota facilities have received, that another secure placement center is in the best interests of the counties. What happened to the juveniles that went to Mesabi Academy for treatment but were sexually abused? What happened to the youth sexually assaulted by a Boys Totem Town therapist in February? Will these youth return to our communities better or bitter?

The recidivism rate of juveniles in Minnesota is 45%. This is unacceptable. Nearly half of the juveniles released from an out-of-home placement will return to the system. Why would we trust the decision-makers to have the answers at this stage? “Juveniles who are processed into the juvenile justice system, rather than diverted, experience increased recidivism” (Seave, 2011). Our youth need to have opportunities, not imprisonment. We should be utilizing restorative justice practices so that harms can be repaired, rather than sending youth away to experience further trauma. Research shows that the majority of people serving an adult sentence experienced the juvenile justice system during adolescence.

According to the Council on Crime and Justice (2009) report: “Thousands of Minnesota youth are adversely impacted by juvenile delinquency records, and a disproportionate number are youth of color due to the racial disparities in our juvenile justice system. Minnesota’s greatest asset is at risk: we depend upon our youth for a thriving and diverse citizenry and leadership; juvenile delinquency records diminish that potential.” We shouldn’t be investing in facilities based on risk factors and a deficit approach that ignores the skill sets possessed by many of our youth. We should be investing in opportunities based on resiliency factors and a strength approach. Resiliency factors have more predictive power than risk factors. Most of these youth need love, support, and caring relationships with adults.

While our key decision-makers seek to relegate youth to facilities, we’d like to offer a few suggestions:

  1. Provide adequate housing for youth contending with homelessness: The National Council of State Legislatures (2011) reported that between 44 and 46 percent of youth released from confinement were released into unstable housing situations. The Wilder Research Center (2011) found that 46 percent of juveniles between ages 10 and 17 who are currently homeless have previously been in a correctional facility.
  2. Seal juvenile records: The Council on Crime and Justice (2014) reported that juvenile records in Minnesota can be accessed by employers, making it more difficult for youth who have been adjudicated delinquent to find employment.
  3. Invest in prevention strategies: “Youth of color and their communities are often pathologized in a way that creates a narrative about their past, current status, and likelihood of success.” (Lacey, 2013, p. 4). Invest more funds in youth learning their true history! When you know who you are, you can better determine where you are going!!
  4. Invest in people who love children to serve children: “The strengths perspective integrates concepts related to resilience, empowerment, hope, healing, and meaning construction. Rather than focusing on deficits, disease, labels, and problems, social workers acting from the strengths perspective are concerned with resources, connections, skills, and gifts” (Gleason, 2007, p. 52).
  5. End the school-to-prison pipeline: “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system. This phenomenon is a consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education” (Elias, 2013).
     

    The community will continue to offer solutions while demanding this project be stopped. Our children will not have a future if we allow them to be warehoused in facilities. “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters—first and foremost—how they behave” (Malcolm Gladwell, David & Goliath). The people spearheading this project are using a crime control model on children who they consider expendable. Come to the Minneapolis Urban League (2100 Plymouth Ave N) tonight from 6-8pm to contribute to the conversation.

The 36-hour hold: Metro law enforcement’s newest scare tactic

The 36-hour hold: Metro law enforcement’s newest scare tactic

This week the Twin Cities saw a disturbing escalation in tactics used by law enforcement against protesters. It has been common practice for protesters who were arrested (often on charges that later failed to hold up in court) to be processed and quickly released, but we are now seeing specific activists explicitly targeted by police and detained for discretionary 36-hour holds. This is a troubling trend in the way law enforcement interacts with people exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and public protest.

An example of when a 36 hour hold is commonly and properly utilized is felony level domestic violence crimes. The city of Minneapolis provides this information for victims of domestic abuse:

If the offender was arrested for a felony level crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. A probable cause hold will be placed on this person. This hold is usually for about 36 to 48 hours depending on the day and time the person was arrested. An investigator from the Domestic Assault Unit will try to contact you. […] The attorney will decide if the evidence merits charging the offender with a crime. The attorney will also look at the past history of the offender. All of this will occur in the 36 hour probable cause hold time. If charged, the offender will see a judge and bail will be set. If the offender was arrested for a misdemeanor crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. Usually the next day, the offender will go in front of a judge and the city attorney will request either release or bail.

So we see that some protesters are being treated with the same level of severity that is also applied in felony domestic violence cases, and are being held longer than domestic abusers arrested on misdemeanor charges.

 

September 6th marked two months since Philando Castile was shot and killed at a traffic stop by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Protesters marked the tragic anniversary by calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to prosecute Yanez. St. Paul police responded in riot gear, bizarrely threatened to arrest everyone standing on the sidewalk, and called out, targeted, and then arrested Eli Lartey. Lartey, who is a member of the group “Justice Occupation for Philando,” was the first protester arrested on July 26 when police shut down the occupation and demonstration in front of the Governor’s mansion, and at that earlier event police ripped him out from a crowd of protesters linking arms by a memorial to Castile. Evidence that Lartey was specifically targeted at the September 6 protest is provided in the livestream by independent media Unicorn Riot. Lartey was placed on a 36 hour hold on probable cause of felony terroristic threats allegedly against drivers (though protesters have more to fear from cars than vice versa), but then only charged with misdemeanors. His targeted arrest and the inflated and apparently false claims (per the amended charges) made against him seem to be designed to intimidate protesters. Eli shared his view with us: “On September 6th, I was racially and politically profiled by the St. Paul police department. While dispersing from them in front of city hall, I was called out by name and detained on accusations of ‘terrorist threats.’ I was held on FALSE charges for over a day. This was a clear attempt by armed officers to take away organization and cause fear and chaos in the nonviolent crowd.”

The charge of “terroristic threats” is a serious one and should not be imposed lightly, or with a goal of intimidating or silencing protesters. But sometimes what appear to be actual terroristic threats are not even charged – for example, when made by an officer against protesters. Former SPPD Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker, who was also the 2nd Vice President of the Minnesota Order of Fraternal Police, wrote on facebook that drivers encountering a planned Black Lives Matter protest should “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street. Here is the deal, you continue to drive and if you hit someone make sure you call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away and you can justify stopping further away because you feared for your safety since in the past people in this group has shown a propensity towards violence.” Rothecker provided detailed advice and encouragement for drivers to commit a dangerous and criminal vehicular assault against non-violent protesters, and directly threatened the safety of demonstrators. While he was forced to apologize and chose to resign, the St. Paul city attorney declined to charge him, and in fact St. Paul paid Rothecker $7,500 in exchange for his agreement to waive any claims.

 

On September 7th, activists from the Minneapolis NAACP and the Black Coalition attended a Park Board meeting to express their concern about longstanding disparities in the hiring, promotion, and treatment of workers of color and the inequitable allocation of public resources, as they have done for months now. At this meeting they were specifically opposed to a proposed agreement with the Loppet Foundation to take over management of the North Minneapolis Theodore Wirth Park. Park Board President Anita Tabb demanded protesters stop talking and found them in violation of meeting rules that had not yet been passed or adopted, and police arrested four women including a teenager, an elder Rosemary Nevils, and Raeisha Williams (communications director with the Minneapolis NAACP). The new approach by the Minneapolis Park Board seems designed to silence black community members who are advocating for necessary improvements.

 

Finally, on Saturday September 10th, Somali youth were protesting a planned new HBO series “Minneapolis to Mogadishu” that will perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize their community. One of the founders of the Black Liberation Project was thrown off a stage and injured, then arrested trying to protect a youth who had been maced by Minneapolis police. The BLP member is on a 36 hour hold that will keep her in jail until Tuesday, including through the important Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha which is celebrated today, Monday September 12. The law enforcement and judicial branches have a special responsibility to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, but here they are specifically targeting Somali youth and unnecessarily and punitively holding a practicing Muslim over a major holy day. Anti-Muslim bigotry flared in the United State after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is now again on the rise with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a ban on the immigration of Muslims. Only a couple months ago, Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota was the site of a hate crime: a group of Somali men were harassed with anti-Muslim comments and then two of them were shot.

It is here instructive to compare how the system handles serious crimes committed by police. Since 2000, over 150 Minnesotans have been killed by police, and not a single officer has been even indicted and charged with a crime for those deaths. Rather than being arrested and held in jail, police who shoot someone are given paid administrative leave and then their actions are rubber stamped as justified – even in cases where the city later pays out a large civil settlement. There have been a few officers convicted of violent crimes when the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. In 2012, Sgt. David Clifford, an executive officer with the Minneapolis SWAT team, was off duty at a bar when he went to confront another patron; as the man stood up, Clifford punched him in the face, and the victim fell backwards and required multiple brain surgeries. Clifford was also arrested on a Saturday and released on bail on a Tuesday, initially charged only with third degree assult – even while his victim remained in the hospital in critical condition. The wife of the victim “wondered why Clifford was released, why he wasn’t charged with a harsher crime and why he allegedly ran after punching her husband.” When Clifford went to trial on upgraded first degree assault charges, he and his attorney Fred Bruno (who also recently represented Dustin Schwarze, the MPD shooter of Jamar Clark) argued that Clifford had acted in self defense. Security camera video footage shows this claim to be false, as established by the jury that convicted Clifford; the judge imposed a sentence of half the prison time recommended under state guidelines. Why is a woman protesting an Islamophobic TV series being held for the same Saturday-to-Tuesday interval as a cop who violently assaulted a bar patron? Why are protesters being initially overcharged (as can be seen from their cases being settled on lesser charges or dismissed) even while that violent cop was initially undercharged?

BLP has shared that people wishing to help can donate to the bail fund and legal team through PayPal at thesystemisguilty@gmail.com and can also call and ask that any and all protestors arrested at West Bank during this action be released. The number to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office is (612) 348-5550 and the one to the jail is (612) 348-5112. Update 9pm: the remaining person held from the West Bank action has been released. Donations still welcome for legal expenses.

We are seeing a trend emerging to protect the status quo; police continue to use excessive force but also apply excessive holds. Law enforcement tactics are seeking to deter protesters but it won’t work. We will be heard and we will get justice.

No Grand Jury, Redux

No Grand Jury, Redux

It has now been nearly two months since Philando Castile was killed near the State Fair grounds by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds livestreamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting and described how Castile had just told Yanez he had a legally registered gun and how Castile was reaching for his ID, as ordered, when Yanez shot him. This Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding the public release of squad car dashcam video covering the Castile traffic stop, which the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is withholding while it continues to investigate. As record numbers of Minnesotans enjoy the State Fair mere blocks from where Castile died, this week his family is bringing his body back to St. Louis, where he was born. His mother says she “brought him here to Minnesota to better his life… but unfortunately he was murdered by St. Anthony Police and this is the last part of the ordeal.”

Police in Minnesota have killed at least 150 people since 2000 with zero criminal indictments (let alone convictions), even as many millions of dollars have been paid out in civil settlements. While people of color are 16 percent of the state population, they comprise 45 percent of police-involved deaths. St. Anthony police records show that they disproportionately stop and arrest black citizens. Castile experienced years of harassment and racial profiling, including on the night of his death when police scanner audio reveals he was pulled over for supposedly looking similar to a robbery suspect “because of the wide-set nose.” Across the country, we know that black people of all genders may be treated as more threatening due to bias: for example, in 2015 unarmed black men were twice as likely as unarmed white men to be shot and killed by police, after accounting for all other relevant factors. To echo Governor Dayton, would Castile have been shot if he had been white?

Grand juries return indictments in nearly all cases they are presented by prosecutors, but almost never indict when police kill the citizens they swore to serve and protect. Across Minnesota, the County Attorneys who are responsible for selecting and presenting the evidence a grand jury considers in police killings also rely extensively on police cooperation and assistance in almost every aspect of prosecuting their other cases, which represents an unavoidable conflict of interest. Now Ramsey County Attorney John Choi must decide whether to use a grand jury in the Castile case. Ramsey County includes St. Paul, and over the last seven years the St. Paul police department has used deadly force more often than any other law enforcement agency in the entire state, disproportionately killing people of color – all without facing any criminal consequences. Last December, Phil Quinn was killed while experiencing an episode of mental illness and holding a screwdriver, and Choi announced this February that a grand jury had (predictably) declined to indict the shooting officer.

After Jamar Clark was shot in Minneapolis last November, activists demanded an end to the practice of grand juries rubber-stamping police killings as justified. Protesters peacefully occupied the Fourth Precinct and marched to city hall, and thousands signed a petition for no grand jury. As Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds put it, “We do not trust the system to produce justice.” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman listened to the voices of activists and announced this March that he would no longer use grand juries in police shootings. Freeman explained his decision: “Others dislike the grand jury process because under law and practice, its proceedings are essentially private and the basis for the grand jury’s decision is confidential… Secrecy, lack of transparency and no direct accountability strikes us as very problematic in a democratic society… I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome.” The same concerns that caused Freeman to forgo grand juries in police shootings should lead Choi to do likewise.

Declining to use a grand jury in the Castile case would not be enough. Even when County Attorneys take the responsibility for making charging decisions rather than using a grand jury, as Freeman did, there remains an inherent conflict of interest due to their working relationship with police. A state-level independent and unbiased special prosecutor should ideally handle all police shootings, but this common sense reform is not practiced in Minnesota. County Attorney Choi’s addition of Don Lewis as a so-called “special prosecutor” to his team does not actually cede any of his authority, and in addition Lewis has a troubling history of favoring those in power.

If Choi bypasses the grand jury while retaining control over the case, he must fulfill his obligation to thoroughly and impartially consider all the available evidence when deciding whether probable cause exists to charge Yanez. Here Choi must do better than Freeman. In personally declining to charge the officers who shot Jamar Clark, Freeman disregarded the testimony of numerous black witnesses, misrepresented the significance of DNA and other forensic evidence, falsely characterized Clark’s relationship with Rayann Hayes and behavior that night, and uncritically parroted a constructed and dubious police narrative. Choi and Freeman both have an obligation under their office to seek justice for the victims of violence, including violence committed by the police with whom they work so closely. Freeman chose to shield the officers who killed Clark from criminal accountability for their actions, and now we will see whether Choi will deliver justice for Philando.

Hundreds of community members will be meeting Saturday at 11:00 where Philando was killed, on Larpenteur and Fry, to honor him and other victims of police brutality. Philando Castile deserves justice and we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

 

One Month After Castile Funeral, Officer who Shot Him Returns to Work

One Month After Castile Funeral, Officer who Shot Him Returns to Work

Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka

Update Aug 24: Officer Yanez returned to administrative leave “out of respect to the sensitive nature of the tragic incident and the concerns from the community.”

On July 6, Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. As Castile lay dying in his seat, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds described live on facebook how he had told Yanez he had a legally registered gun and how he was reaching for his ID, as ordered, when he was shot.

This Wednesday, one month after Philando Castile was buried, Yanez returned to work on desk duty even though the shooting is still under investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This seems like a troubling indication that Yanez will be cleared of any wrongdoing by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi despite overwhelming evidence including from the video that Castile did not present any threat and should not have been shot.

Minnesota has a shameful history of failing to hold police officers accountable when they kill the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect, but it would be difficult indeed to understand how Yanez could escape any criminal responsibility for his actions that evening. A non-indictment of Officer Yanez would leave innocent blood on a police department, a county attorney’s office, and on state legislators. A good person died tragically and unfairly and the state has a duty to indict the officer who pulled the trigger. A non-indictment would mean the state of Minnesota is truly Jim Crow North!

Inexplicably, Chief Jon Mangseth took the occasion of Yanez returning to work to heap praise on his officer, even as the investigation is ongoing. Mangseth’s statements only add fuel to the fire. Did Mangseth consider Philando’s family when he decided to make this public statement? Mangseth described Yanez as having “a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people”–qualities notably absent in the video that shows Yanez yelling expletives, telling Reynolds to keep her “hands where they are” while she sat next to her dying boyfriend, and pointing his gun at Castile rather than rendering any sort of aid.

Mangseth also described Yanez as having a sterling reputation within the department. Did he also have a sterling reputation with Black citizens? Having a sterling reputation within a department doesn’t have any validity because a majority of the police departments across America are racist, sexist, xenophobic, and function within a culture of cruelty. It seems clear that Castile was racially profiled–police scanner audio describes him as looking similar to a robbery suspect “because of the wide-set nose” and as MPR documented Castile experienced years of police profiling and harassment. Sadly, Castile’s experiences were consistent with the general grossly disproportionate citations and arrests of Black people by St. Anthony police.

Mangseth also said Yanez was worried about his own future. At least he has a future. Philando Castile doesn’t because Yanez took that. The chief didn’t even make mention of the mourning family, who declined to comment to media. How painful must it have been for them to see the officer who killed their son return to work? There will be a protest starting at 11 o’clock today (August 19) where Castile’s family will speak. We hope that Mangseth and the entire St. Anthony police department will truly listen to the community’s grief and outrage.

In a week, the State Fair opens. As Minnesotans eat Martha’s cookies, drink lemonade, and enjoy roasted corn, we can rest assured that there are some Minnesotans who won’t be going: Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. Their lives were unjustly taken by the bullets of trained law enforcement officers. Two cold-blooded murders by two different departments. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman bypassed using a grand jury in the Jamar Clark case because “the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome.” This was a positive step, but then he dropped the ball by not charging the officers despite more than sufficient evidence: no Justice for Jamar.

Ramsey County attorney Choi has not yet said whether he intends to use a grand jury. Will he deliver justice for Philando or will he continue the trend of zero criminal indictments or charges (let alone convictions) when police kill? We saw in the Jamar Clark case that the BCA defers to the police narrative while seeking to undermine Black eyewitnesses; we must also have an independent and complete federal investigation, one which does not simply parrot the BCA or the County Attorney. History tells us that police officers aren’t held accountable in Minnesota; justice demands that we keep fighting until they are!

Black Lives, Pokemon, and Double Standards from St. Paul PD

Black Lives, Pokemon, and Double Standards from St. Paul PD

By Rachel Wannarka and Jason Sole

In recent weeks, Rice Park in St. Paul has become a popular spot for Pokémon Go players to congregate. Twitter comments include, from August 2 at 10:12pm: “Crowd of about 100-200 people out at St. Paul’s Rice Park playing Pokémon Go at 10:00 on a Tuesday night” with a video showing exactly that, and from August 7: “People playing Pokémon Go last night in Rice Park, St. Paul MN” accompanied by a video showing about 150 mostly white people running, talking loudly, and laughing in the dark. A Pokémon event for Rice Park on August 4 was officially scheduled to run 7pm to 11pm. Tony Haom, 36, of St. Paul writes: “I took the kids Wednesday night around 10pm and there were probably 200+ people there at Rice Park. If I had to guess, it’s a minimum 50 people at all times and that excludes people in their cars or hanging out on the opposite side of the streets. There seems to be more people after 10pm than in the daytime in my opinion.” Multiple people have noted that some Pokémon players bring blankets, coolers, folding chairs, etc, including at night as they stay. Rice Park officially closes at 9:30pm but police have obviously elected not to enforce this; instead, they have taken a lighthearted approach, as a tweet from 11:51pm July 30 documents: “St. Paul PD just drove by Rice Park blasting the Pokemon theme song.” We admit to not understanding the appeal of Pokémon Go ourselves but are happy to see people enjoying themselves in the park.

Police are not always so relaxed about park closing times. Friday night, a new black youth group called Awareness and Resistance 14 (AR14), which includes a large percentage of LGBTQ identifying individuals, was showing a documentary in Carty Park. According to organizer Chauntyl Allen of St. Paul, who advises AR14, the group was developed by the youth themselves for education, healing, and self care following the trauma many experienced at the hands of police during the occupation at the Governor’s mansion. Allen says that the education component of AR14 is essential: “This type of information is not available in school. The youth haven’t been taught history that looks like them.” On Friday, “The youth were sitting in a public park trying to get information from people who care.”

At the documentary showing, St. Paul police showed up in riot gear immediately after the official park closing time and six people were arrested with two actually booked into the Ramsey County Correctional Facility on charges of trespassing. The official police statement made no mention of either the selective enforcement or of the aggressive tactics, glossing over the disparate treatment.

Earlier this year, the Pioneer Press put out a comprehensive report on the racial gaps in Minnesota, which are among the worst in the nation. They highlighted that “Racial prejudice also continues to be an important factor” in these gaps, citing a Metropolitan Council study that controlled for age, education, and language skills. The criminal justice system is laced through with bias: “While blacks make up just 5 percent of Minnesota’s population, they make up 36 percent of the prison population.” A recent ACLU study of Minneapolis found “a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level offenses” with black and Native American citizens disproportionately targeted. Meanwhile over the last seven years St. Paul police have killed more suspects than any other department in Minnesota – again, disproportionately people of color. These troubling gaps are one reason why activists sometimes refer to Minnesota as Jim Crow North.

Black youth in the Twin Cities know the statistics and they also know their lived experiences. Community outreach events with police and youth can be positive, but it is how police treat youth whom they encounter on the street, at the mall, or in a park that is remembered. Far too often those encounters are needlessly antagonistic, even traumatizing, for black youth. When black youth are treated differently than are white people in Minnesota, the police must be receptive to complaints and need to actually implement corrective changes. Youth and organizers who were at Carty Park Friday night provide a firsthand view of discriminatory, routine mistreatment by police.

Yhanté Williams, 18, describes the evening. “This black and LGBTQ youth group started AR14, they decided to hold an educational event about Rondo Days and the Black Power movement. It wasn’t any type of protest besides the march to the park to claim it as a new occupation space. No alcohol, drugs, partying, everyone was sitting there watching a movie. There were kids at the park, everyone was learning and having fun together. It was kind of a chill out after what had happened at the mansion. Everyone was tired after what had happened.”

When the police arrived, they didn’t simply send one officer to say that it was past closing time (which, again, would already be a selective enforcement), but instead: “the police pulled up in like 8 different big black vans and they got really close really fast. They were taking their batons saying ‘move back, move back’ we said ‘we’re not going anywhere we’re sitting in the park. Is this how you approach other people sitting in the park?’ I went back to grab the rest of our blankets and stuff. Next thing I know they’re surrounding us telling us to leave, but they wouldn’t let us leave. A protester tried to leave the circle and they pushed her back in with their batons.” Williams was arrested and requested a female officer to handle the check for weapons, but a “male officer lifted up my skirt, I looked at him and he put his hands up in the air like he didn’t do anything. He was just there holding my hand up on the car and I felt my skirt go up. I was like, “what are you doing?” He was like ma’am get in the car.”

Frustratingly, “They wouldn’t tell me why i was arrested until way after, no one would tell me why I was being held. You asked why and they literally looked in my face and said ‘we don’t know, you have to wait.’” Williams was held until 5am and was apparently detained because she had been previously arrested in front of the mansion – where police also surrounded large groups of protesters and refused to let anyone leave. The legality of all these arrests in public spaces seems to us to be rather dubious, which is perhaps why police don’t employ these tactics against a neighborhood that shuts off their street for a spontaneous block party, or Pokémon Go players in a park after closing.

Activist Michaela Nichole Day filmed the police raid on the movie watchers. She gave us her perspective: “Under Chief Axtell’s command, Mayor Coleman and Governor Dayton’s police force showed up in riot gear about 50 deep for around 30 people watching an educational movie in the park that was organized by youth with the support of the Rondo neighbors and community. St. Paul police shouted for people to leave whilst simultaneously surrounding people so they couldn’t leave. They even pushed people from the sidewalk onto the park grass while telling them to leave the park. They made a point to target youth (and their supporters) who organized educational events. Police needlessly and violently tackled Black females to the ground but were less violent with “white” people they arrested without tackling them. This is another example of Jim Crow Minnesota as usual. The irony is not lost on us that there was a public relations photo op earlier in the day with St. Paul police officers playing basketball with youth on the West Side. They will take a photo op with Black and Brown youth any chance they get, and turn around treat them like three-fifths of a person.”

Chauntyl Allen wrote her thoughts about the incident. “It’s very disappointing that young people have organized hard to build within the intergenerational gaps that formed through systematic design to oppress. These students took the initiative to set up classroom space to learn about things that are eliminated from standard education. We were sitting on the grass watching a documentary to educate the youth in this movement when St. Paul police moved in and surrounded us with fully loaded semi-automatic weapons and began to violently arrest people. There were specific organizers targeted. The organizers that spoke at the rally, and earlier on the news, were first to be surrounded and detained. I’m really starting to be concerned for my safety and other organizers attempting to inject truth, love, and humanity back into the system. The police brought trash trucks and disposed of our entire classroom. Everyone claims they want youth involvement but when it shows up they shut it down. They thought that they could break our spirits and we wouldn’t continue this powerful work, but the positive response from the community tells us we need to do it! They come at us with guns but it won’t work because our thoughts are bulletproof.”

We write here as parents of young children who are inspired and impressed by the passion, insight, and effectiveness of youth who are working for change. These are the future leaders of our communities: future business owners, scientists, politicians, writers, teachers, cops, firefighters, artists, reporters, or whatever else they aspire to be. These youth are actively creating a better Twin Cities for our own children, and their friends, and the next generation. How can we best support these efforts to address the injustices that continue to plague our communities of color? Accountability for wildly disparate treatment is a necessary first step. Antagonistic and unnecessary arrests at a park movie event can’t be the answer.

It is not justice when black youth in a park for education are met with riot gear and forceful arrests, while hundreds of people playing Pokemon Go at all hours in a park are met with support and songs. There needs to be justice for Philando and also for the youth who are spearheading efforts to ensure fairness, justice and equality.