When do we #SayHerName? Examining the systems behind the death of Jamar Clark

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As protesters aligned with Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis (BLM-Minneapolis) took to the streets over the past few weeks, the now-familiar message was clear: Jamar Clark did not deserve to meet his untimely death on a North Minneapolis sidewalk by a bullet in his head. His death, another tally in a string of fatal encounters between unarmed black men and law enforcement agencies across the country, was another notch in the need to address the issue of discriminatory police practices and for reform. The formulaic response to yet another police killing also meant a backlash against the narrative of who the real victim was in this fatal encounter.

Victim-blaming and character assassination has become the first response used to validate the actions of law enforcement in these racially charged encounters, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the public discourse following such events. According to this narrative, Clark–as with other victims of police brutality–must have done something to necessitate the actions of Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, the two police officers involved in his death. For those who hold this viewpoint, there is a need to prove that Clark’s actions during the incident warranted the discharge of a firearm. That need leads to an examination of how his behavior in the minutes, hours, weeks and even years prior to the events of Nov. 15 disprove his victimhood. Or to disprove that he had been treated unfairly as a result of his race.

 

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As we look back at other recent victims of police brutality, the narrative continues. For Michael Brown, it was that he had just stolen from a corner store prior to being gunned down. Tamir Rice should never have been playing in public with a toy gun that so closely resembled an actual weapon, and neither should have John Crawford III. Eric Garner was engaged in illegal activity when he was approached by law enforcement officers. Laquan McDonald was high on PCP and wielding a knife prior to the 16 shots fired into his body. But what about Jamar Clark? In what way had he contributed to his own demise?

The criminalization of Clark as it played out on social media boiled down to this: the alleged assault of his girlfriend on the night of his murder, which had been the genesis of his encounter with the police. Further proof that he, not the police, was the aggressor was exhibited through his attempts to interfere with paramedics’ efforts to treat his girlfriend at the scene. These details were trolled out on Twitter, Facebook and in the comment sections of news articles surrounding Clark’s death as evidence that he was not a victim of police brutality, but instead a criminal whose actions had produced an equivalent reaction by officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze.

 

 

This attempt to reframe the story by placing the blame on the victim plays into our society’s socialized depictions of black men as violent perpetrators, criminals and thugs in the face of law and order. By reframing the story, it also asserts that, by Clark’s true nature as a “woman-beater,” he is not deserving of our empathy or of marches and protests calling for justice on his behalf.

His yet unnamed girlfriend quickly became the tool by which to demonize a social justice movement, BLM-Minneapolis, and black men like him. These details of Clark’s behavior during the incident were also offered as proof that the local BLM chapter is not truly interested in black lives but instead a divisive movement whose aim is to polarize America on trumped up notions of racial disparities.

Many others in the days following Clark’s death piped in their dissent surrounding the coverage of the incident. Theirs was a more measured call for an examination of all the factors at play in the case. That is, the need to not only call for an end to the extrajudicial killings of unarmed black men, but also to acknowledge Clark’s victim and address the issue of domestic violence. As local writer Shannon Gibney noted on Facebook,

 

“So, what about the woman Jamar Clark was in a domestic dispute with when the cops were called? Who is she? Is she okay? Are the cops still not letting anyone talk to her? And why aren’t any of US, who are behind the BLM movement and want #Justice4Jamar talking about her, and the crisis of domestic violence in our communities in the very same breath we demand a stop to unchecked police violence against poor black and brown folks?”

 

Jamar Clark had a girlfriend–this much we know. On the night of his death he had allegedly assaulted her. Like Gibney, many of us do not know who Clark’s girlfriend is, what her story is or even how she is faring in the aftermath of the alleged assault. Which is fair, because victims of domestic assault and abuse ultimately deserve the right to privacy; a right to heal and recover away from the public eye.

 

 

However, we also need to acknowledge how the narratives of black women are both buried within, and simultaneously used as, tools against social justice movements such as BLM-Minneapolis.There is a need not only to #SayHerName but to highlight the hypocrisy of commentators who are only interested in discussing black women’s suffering if it serves their ends.

In the case of Jamar Clark, it is not just his girlfriend who is been used as a tool to discredit the calls for justice surrounding his death, but also his sister. In a video taken last week, Clark’s sister, who is visibly upset, is seen yelling at #Justice4Jamar protesters through a car window.

 

 

In the video she is heard asking the protesters, “What is the goal here? It’s just to piss people off.” This questioning of protesters’ intentions, taken out of context, has been used by some commentators to further discredit the legitimacy and justification of protesters’ actions in shutting down a highway, or occupying the Fourth Precinct police station. If even Clark’s sister sees no point to these direct actions then why are protesters engaging in them and disrupting ordinary civilians’ lives?

However at the 0:15 second mark of the video, Clark’s sister utters a sentiment that speaks to the defeatism that many Black Americans feel about the policing of their communities. “Go to the people that matter,” she says, “these officers can’t do anything for you.”

In that phrase lies the lived realities of many more Black women who have learned through their experiences that the police “can’t do anything for you.”  Black women–as victims of a systemic violence that is rooted in both racism and misogyny–do not receive the same scrutiny within the larger fight for social justice. Because of this, they have learned that the police cannot be counted on.

Take for instance the case of Lakisha Briggs from Norristown, Penn., a domestic violence victim who, after repeatedly calling the police for protection from an abusive ex-boyfriend was told by the police that “one more altercation at her rented row house … one more call to 911, and they would force her landlord to evict her.” The message to Briggs was clear: To the people intended to protect her from such violence, she was a nuisance, not a victim. In her own words, “If I called the police to get him out of my house, I’d get evicted. If I physically tried to remove him, somebody would call 911 and I’d be evicted.” So Briggs did not call the police when her ex-boyfriend returned to her home to victimize her, even if she feared for both her and her 3-year-old daughter’s life. The result: her ex-boyfriend returned to assault her in June 2012, resulting in the injuries that required Briggs to be airlifted to a hospital. Her neighbors called the police during this final attack and, in the aftermath, the city of Norristown attempted to forcibly evict her before attorneys, including from the ACLU, intervened on her behalf.

Then there is the case of Marissa Alexander, from Jacksonville, Fla. In August 2010–nine days after the birth of a daughter–Alexander’s estranged abusive ex-husband assaulted her in her home. Alexander fired a warning shot from a gun legally registered in her name in an attempt to get her ex-husband to leave. The warning shot was fired upwards into a wall and did not cause any injuries to anyone. Alexander faced criminal charges for firing this warning shot. She appealed for immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, arguing that she had acted in self-defense because she feared of her life.

 

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The Stand Your Ground law is the same defense that George Zimmerman would use in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Where Zimmerman would later be acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Martin, Alexander was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault with a weapon in May 2012 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. She served 3 years in jail before a successful campaign to release her saw her walk out of prison this January. Briggs’ and Alexander’s stories are just two stories that sit behind a large wall of societally sanctioned silence. Even though these two women suffered at the hands of domestic violence, the public never saw them as victims.

Because these women’s experiences overwhelmingly fail to gain much public interest unless it is in service to the maintenance of dominant narratives–as in the case of Clark’s girlfriend–they also mistrust that their experiences as victims will be subject to fair treatment. Or that much like Alexander, Briggs and now Clark, they will bear the blame. The erasure of these women’s stories from public discourse and within the judicial system has consequently meant a failure to address the systemic violence that black women experience. It also partially accounts for failure to address the issue of domestic violence within Black communities. But even more importantly, why Black women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence do not call the police to intervene.

An August 2015 ACLU article notes that “domestic violence-related calls constitute the single largest category of calls received by the police,” which means how police officers respond to these calls is crucial in stemming intimate partner violence. Alarming statistics when it comes to the victimization of black women in intimate relationships also point to the urgent need to create a safer space within which these women can call the police without fear of a further escalation in institutionalized violence by interacting with law enforcement.

 

11/24 march - malcom

Uche Iroegbu

Taken at the Nov. 24 march in downtown Minneapolis.

 

“Intimate-partner homicide is (also) among the leading causes of death for black women ages 15 to 35,” according to experts. Furthermore, they said, “(black women) are about three times more likely to die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner than members of other racial groups. ” This disturbing facet of black women’s lives is not limited to the experiences of cis black women, but extends to black trans women, whose deaths at the hands of partners and acquaintances have seen a recent sharp rise while failing to garner much public attention or debate.

When all the pieces come together, you have a culture that says aggressive and law-breaking black men are “asking for it” during confrontations with police, a culture that says black women cannot be considered victims unless the victimhood also discredits a violent black man. Such a culture in which black men and women receive disproportionately unfair treatment within the judicial system has meant that many women in abusive relationships do not come forward because they lack confidence in the fair treatment of their experiences as victims, and that of their abusers within the system.

Even when they do attempt to engage the judicial system, they are subject to gender and racial bias that too often results in police misconduct. The same August 2015 ACLU article cites how “improper, and often illegal, police responses to domestic violence and sexual assault cases” serve to endanger women’s lives and subvert efforts to ending domestic and sexual violence, while creating a climate that allows abusers to continue to “commit crimes with impunity.”

We need to examine how the current discriminatory policing of black communities asks women to be silent victims and how we can elevate the untold stories of these women. Much like Clark did not deserve to meet his death on a sidewalk, victims of domestic violence do not deserve to suffer in silence. We need to give not just the black men in our lives justice, but also the black women among us.

 

11/24 march - love

Uche Iroegbu

Taken at the Nov. 24 march in downtown Minneapolis.

18 thoughts on “When do we #SayHerName? Examining the systems behind the death of Jamar Clark

  1. As a child who has lived through domestic violence I feel that your article lacks a sense of … personal experience. We need to look at this incident in a big picture. Your article presumes the victim of Mr. Clark was African American, unless I have missed some information to indicate that this is fact do you know for sure? I cannot assume that his prior conviction was the result of a fight with a woman. I cannot even assume it was the same woman he is accused of abusing on the night in question. What I am getting at is that we cant fabricate areas of his criminal history to suit our needs based upon what we find on the mncourt.gov website. What we can be certain of is that he does have a criminal history. That being said I cannot defend nor condemn a man until I have all of the facts. That goes for both Mr. Clark and the two police officers.
    This is an issue that affects every woman. Domestic violence occurs in every ethnicity and throughout every socioeconomic status. I don’t know the specifics in the Briggs case, but again as a child who lived through domestic violence there is a reoccurring pattern of violence that is hard to understand. I loved my mother, but I do not understand her psychological codependency on someone who abused her. Not to mention her willingness to expose me to the affects of it. I do not mean to discredit Ms. Briggs but we must understand the psychological impact on victims of domestic abuse and the result is that they sometimes are unable to view the situation in a logical way. From experience I would get frustrated with my mother when I would constantly call the cops for protection against the man that was hitting her and than eight hours later she would allow that same man back in the house.

    I suggest you read this: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/forms-documents/Documents/!09%20Domestic%20Violence%20Report.pdf. It will confirm some of your cursory findings but should also enlighten you on the substantive research that your article was missing. The issues you mention are larger than the police and I think to some degree you recognize this. I also recommend you volunteer at the Tubman House so you get a better perspective on all of the people that are affect by domestic abuse.

    • Thank you for all your valid points. By all indications the woman in the Jamar Clark incident is African American. Please note however, that it is impossible to cover all aspects of domestic violence within an article like this; that would be a report rather than an article. This particular piece is solely about DV within the African American community and how police response aids in the silence around this issue.

  2. EVERY TIME police try to Blame the Victim for Murder By Cop we must immediately raise the TRUE ISSUE: We have just witnessed another Modern Lynching where a Cop just EXECUTED someone for an alleged crime that carries no Death Penalty. Without a trial or evidence. Used to hang from a triee, now get to just shoot ’em.

    In what country can you put someone to death for — allegedly — stealing a box of cigars or selling cigarettes without a tax stamp. In THIS one. Least civilized Court System in the world. And make no mistake, it IS the Court System, because the Courts don’t hold the cops responsible for that murder.

    Someone said it well: “We give cops Diplomatic Privilege to commit Capital Murder.”

    • This is a lengthy explanation of my personal opinion after reading much about the Jamar Clark protest, and the demands of BLM to release the tapes. The past experience in Ferguson can tell us much about how witnesses can be tainted by the media, and how media accounts can make their way back into “witness accounts”. By holding back information that only those where were there could know, the police can determine some level of truth and if the witness is accurate in their statement. Actual eyewitness accounts of any event can vary wildly, and as many in law enforcement know, can be unreliable at best.

      I found one media report that interviewed the girlfriend from the assault earlier this year, she is not the same woman that was assaulted by Jamar in the event that led to his shooting. I did hear from a reliable source (law enforcement personnel) that the picture of the woman who was beaten in the first assault that is circulating around the internet is indeed a real picture of her after a pretty significant beating to her face.

      I couldn’t understand how far apart the two versions of the Michael Brown death were, and set out to try and learn as much factual information as I could. I read the 1000 pages of Grand Jury testimony which was eye opening, and answered much of my original question. Here are several myths that the Grand Jury testimony factually addressed, and is undeniable in the facts as presented.

      1. Michael Brown, by all credible testimony, and by DNA and other personal evidence, had his body at least partially inside the police vehicle. Michael Brown’s DNA was on Darren Wilson’s neck, head and arms. The only time that could have happened was inside the police vehicle. The initial gunshot wound in MB’s hand, and the bullet recovered from inside the vehicle’s door, prove without question that his hand was inside the vehicle when he was shot.
      2. The blood trail from MB showed he ran 180 feet away from the vehicle with DW in pursuit. The blood trail turns back toward DW for a distance of 21.6 feet to the point where MB fell with mortal wounds. This proves without question that MB did not simply stop and surrender. The distance between MB and DW at that point was 8-10 feet I believe in the final forensic report.
      3. 3 separate autopsies all concur that no entry wounds were found in MB’s back, contrary to some witnesses who claimed he was shot in the back.
      4. Within minutes of the shooting, the crowd around the scene caused the officers onsite to call for immediate backup. During the investigation, the crowd became out of control several times to the point of the investigators having to stop, pull back to safety, to allow crowd control to gain control enough so they could work safely. These stoppages added significantly to the time it took to process the scene. Several more times, more officers were requested to help with safety issues, exhausting in succession, Ferguson PD, St. Louis County, and Highway Patrol resources. This addresses the complaints that the police failed to act quickly enough to remove MB’s body. Testimony from the Medical Examiner places the typical investigation taking 3-4 hours. It took the ME’s office some time to arrive (travel time from dispatch).
      5. Two main witnesses that testified to “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” were both completely discredited. Dorian Johnson, who was with MB, ran for cover with the first shot, around the front of the diagonally parked police Tahoe, to the far side to the passenger side of the Monte Carlo which was then blocked by the Tahoe. DJ tried to get into that vehicle, and the occupants refused to allow him in. He was crouching on the far passenger side door, blocked by the Monte Carlo AND the Tahoe from any view at all of what happened. He then left the scene immediately and changed clothes to avoid recognition, and returned to the scene to give his “eyewitness” account to TV reporters, starting the “hands up don’t shoot narrative”.
      6. The second “witness” to the narrative came forward several months after the shooting. Her account matched that of the “hands up” narrative that had been on the media accounts. She initially claimed that she had witnessed the shooting from her patio door in the apartment complex. Through interviews, it became clear that she could not have witnessed the shooting due to inconsistencies in her accounts. Her story then switched to that of recounting her boyfriend’s witnessing the shooting, to finally that actually neither of them had witnessed the shooting, and that she felt that the “hands up don’t shoot” account needed more support.
      7. Reading the grand jury transcripts, it was very clear that in the community, there was great amount of pressure to maintain the narrative of “hands up, don’t shoot”. Witnesses were intimidated (snitches get stitches), and felt unsafe to come forward. NAACP, came in and started “interviewing” potential witnesses, ignoring critical protocols for protecting investigations, and tainting witness accounts. Once these witnesses were vetted, they contacted the investigators to provide their accounts. Many potential witnesses never came forward due to their fear in the community.

      There is much more to the testimony that gives great context to what was happening before during and after the shooting that the media accounts have never related. That, to me, is also concerning that the media chooses only to report on certain things, and ignore others totally that would give a greater context to an event.

      I am glad that so far our Twin Cities have taken steps that have made the difference between our community and that of Baltimore and Ferguson. I hope those efforts continue, and that the quest for the truth is followed by all, and not any predetermined narrative that is being pushed by any side or the media.

  3. We won’t #SayHerName because typically women that are victims of domestic abuse are never identified in the press for their own protection. If she wanted to be identified she has every right to talk to the press and tell her story. She apparently isn’t interested in becoming the next spokesperson for the social justice warriors in Minneapolis.

    • Please note that I do address this; that as a public we have no right to her name. However, we have an obligation to address DV and the ways in which its continuation is reinforced.

        • I wish I could. That some day racism, sexism, and all the other ism’s would cease to matter and I could walk out the house not a black person, not a woman, but simply Kari. However, that’s not possible…. yet. And perhaps something you take for granted. But as a person whose daily life is affected by these things (which I assume yours isn’t based off your response), it’s not something I can do. I can’t just “get over” the myriad of ways that black and brown bodies in this country are denied the right to live and thrive. My life is tied to not only constantly knowing about these things, but caring, responding to, and finding ways to dismantle them. That’s the thing, so I can’t “get over it” because it’s not something to be gotten over.

          • Tell it Kari! We want Justice. And we have to speak up and say that as yet, the USA has plenty of shortcomings and acknowledging that, the next step isn’t to pretend we don’t mind it, the next step is to rectify it. It’s a great article. Some comments though are super foolish.

  4. This is an excellent, nuanced piece, and further proof that if we want to make any progress in these issues, we need to move away from “either/or” discussions and instead try a “both/and” approach. The female victim of domestic assault has every right to justice, protection and care. The fact that she has had none of those is evidence of the level of ingrained sexism and racism in our culture and in our policing systems. That fact does not impact nor alter the horror inflicted on Mr. Clark, nor does it remove culpability from his aggressors. His prior behavior does not remove his fundamental right to justice. We can BOTH insist on protections for victims of DV and insist on a cultural shift in how we talk about DV, AND demand justice for everyone who has been grossly harmed by police – even if they may have done something wrong. If we have justice for SOME, but not justice for ALL, then we do not have justice. It’s as simple as that.

  5. Excellent piece – finally!! Thank you to the author, Kari Mugo! One further point. It is also a painful fact that police are truly hugely at risk when they intervene in cases of domestic violence. They know this and it likely affects their conduct at the scene of any domestic violence assault.

  6. The general direction of your article makes a good point that got lost in the entire Jamar Clark issue. What about the well being of the woman that he assaulted that night? No, I do not need to know her name. But, many people white and black, are genuinely concerned about how she is and is she alright. I put myself into that category, I truly hope that she is OK.

    As for some of your supporting information, there are some factual issues much like what I outlined in my comments regarding Michael Brown.

    As for Marissa Alexander, her relationship with her husband was indeed volatile. However, the facts are that in actuality Marissa violated a no-contact order that was in place AGAINST her when she proceeded over to her husband’s house. The no-contact order was the result of an incident four months prior in which Marissa gave the husband a black eye, and subsequently pleaded no contest to assault.

    Marissa, according to testimony, argued with her husband to the point at which HE called 911, she goes out to the garage to her car and rather than leaving, pulls her own gun out of the glove box, goes BACK into the house and fires a shot not in the air, but at head height (the bullet went through the kitchen wall and ricocheted into the ceiling of the adjacent living room) in the direction of her husband AND his two children who are 9 and 13 standing right next to him.

    The husband was no treat either, so I am not making a case either way that this couple will win any awards for parenting or the world’s best marriage. The husband had 5 other “baby mamas” and in his words “put his hands on every one of them”.

    Relating this to Jamar, and his girlfriend, we will wait to see what the grand jury comes out with. Will BLM, IF the evidence comes out that Jamar indeed did wrestle for control of the officers gun, publicly say so? Past history says no. So far, what we know is that she called 911 to the scene, and was injured badly enough that she needed an ambulance, and that the paramedics had an issue with Jamar that was significant enough that they, too, needed assistance and called for police. Does that mean we should assume that Jamar “had it coming”? No, I don’t think we make that jump. Does it mean that it’s entirely possible that one could picture an escalation of events based on previous events? Yes I certainly can see the possibilities of a struggle with a highly agitated Jamar, who has already shown by his actions that night to be capable of violent behavior.

    To the bigger question – is there is a lot of room for common ground. Whites as well, are interested in fair play and treating people of all colors the right way. There is no reason not to, nothing to gain from demeaning one group against the other. I think broad support could be gained for police reforms if we find a place that all of us can get behind as a starting point. However, how can we support law and order in a land based on the rule of law, then ignore it if it doesn’t suit our narrative? Then ignore it again, when the facts come out that the narrative was not true?

    • We don’t need “all of us” to agree in order to pursue justice. The important point of the article wasn’t if the person who called the police is OK, it”s the way in which police violence is excused, reframed, explained away, and in the end accepted and then repeated.

      • When I say “all of us” I mean white and black, young and old, finding common ground to move forward to address policing issues.

        You say pursue justice, I say – lets get the facts first. You say lets change the justice system because at you don’t have the result you want. I say, how does BLM get broader support if they stay in such a narrow focus.

        The cause will never get off the ground much like Occupy Wall Street if they don’t care what others think, and want to tell half the story (see Marissa Alexander) to support a point of view.

        As a white middle age male, I have a few stories of my own about less than desirable interactions with police. One traffic stop on an dark empty county road for speeding (45 in a 35, he claimed he clocked me at the city limits, 1/4 mile up the road in the dark he could tell I was still inside the sign- ya right) left me shaking with my hands gripping the wheel so there would be no confusion about where they were.
        Maybe not as dramatic as the stories used in this article, but an example of what could happen either way.

        I’m saying many more people might support BLM, if there was another way to express it than closing freeways, shopping malls etc. I am very glad that our city has been able to manage to work with all parties so there isn’t a repeat of Ferguson and Baltimore, I think we are all better than that.

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