The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster for folks organizing around #Justice4Jamar. On March 16th Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman announced that he would not be using the Grand jury to decide if charges would be filed against the police officers who shot and killed Jamar Clark. Not only that, he also announced that Hennepin county would no longer use the Grand jury in cases involving a police shooting. This felt like a major victory as the Grand jury process lacks transparency and had failed to deliver indictments in the cases of Tamir Rice and Mike Brown. By forgoing the Grand jury there would be more accountability due to the responsibility falling on an elected official, in this case Freeman, and the increased transparency. These are all good things. They don’t, however, mean that justice will be served. As it turns out the increased responsibility and transparency served much the same purpose as Donald Trump’s presidential run: exposing the depths of white supremacy.
On March 30th Mike Freeman held a press conference to announce that he would not be charging Officers Schwarze and Riggenberg. He came to the conclusion that their actions were justified. In his press conference Freeman painted Jamar Clark as someone who was out of control after beating his girlfriend and was now terrorizing the paramedics and eventually the officers. He continuously mentioned the fact that Jamar Clark had his hands in his pockets and was not responsive to the officers directions (keep in mind Jamar Clark was dead 61 seconds after the police showed up). He quoted the melodrama of the police statements as if they were the gospel truth. This unshakable faith in the honesty of the police climaxed as he made his only mention of the numerous witnesses; Freeman mentioned the witness statements only to say he could not give them much credence because they contradict the police statements. Freeman painted one scenario, pieced together from the police statements, where Jamar Clark was the stereotypical superhuman Black male so foreign to our society that while a gun was drawn on him and pointed at his face he, let Freeman tell it, dramatically declared “I’m ready to die.”
Freeman continuously urged us to look at the evidence ourselves and come to our own conclusion. He was confident that we, the general public, would come to the same conclusion he had. Up to this point things had played out the way many predicted; however, thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter and the dedicated folks fighting for justice, the script is about to undergo a major rewrite. The pressure for transparency forced Freeman to make the evidence, including videos, public.
Freeman is counting on folks filtering the evidence through the lens that he provided i.e. Whiteness. He is counting on folks being spoon fed the hate and anti-Blackness that white supremacy requires and smiling about it. But we are not going.
The evidence in no way supports the narrative that Freeman and the police presented. The videos show a relatively calm Jamar Clark. The videos show the paramedics being able to do their job with no interference from Jamar Clark. The videos show Jamar Clark appearing to walk away while an officer comes from behind him, places him in a choke hold and takes him to the ground. The videos show what so many of us already knew: the police are racist liars. The final nail in the coffin for the narrative Freeman and the police are trying to spin is Rayann Hayes.
Rayann Hayes is the woman who was supposedly, again let Freeman and the cops tell it, assaulted by Jamar Clark, her boyfriend. Except she wasn’t. According to the transcripts from the BCA and her own words in a WCCO interview Jamar Clark never abused her and wasn’t her boyfriend. He was a concerned friend who was checking to make sure she was alright. The entire crux of the systems argument just fell apart. And it is here that us white folks must do some serious work.
I’ve seen countless white folks express their shock and surprise at what has become painfully obvious: Freeman and the police lied to cover up the killing of another unarmed and totally innocent Black man. But this isn’t new and our surprise, however genuine, is not helpful. Does that mean we can’t be surprised, no of course not. Be surprised, but then realize that we need to take action. Like I said, this is not new.
Time and time again we learn of the depravity of whiteness only after it is shoved in our face. Whether we are talking about Emmett Till, Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, or Jamar Clark. The fact that we require such undeniable proof– and make no mistake this is undeniable proof– is the problem. It is only whiteness and white supremacy that keeps our heads in the clouds.
Just as it’s white supremacy that fuels the xenophobia, blatant racism and belligerence that is a Donald Trump rally, white supremacy also fuels our collective liberal white disbelief. It is white supremacy that said “well he was beating his girlfriend.”It is white supremacy that says “he should have taken his hands out of this pockets.”It is white supremacy that looks at the evidence and sees a villain instead of a victim. This doubt. This inability to understand the roots of this country’s relationship to Black folks is precisely what gave birth to the mantra Black Lives Matter.
The remedy to this cluelessness is actually simple. Begin by understanding that this country, this society, is built on the oppression of Black people. With this understanding it is obvious that rather than a failure of the system, the system is working just as it should. When a system was never built to protect you, it can not fail you. Full Stop. So what does that mean for us white folks who genuinely feel the need to do something about what we see as injustice? It means we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and the filter we use to understand the world.
While this is easy to say, it is tremendously difficult to do. Literally everything we feel, think, and experience needs to be re-filtered. This is going to take intentionality and a willingness to be very uncomfortable. But, as I tell my students, they don’t call them growing pains for nothing. Accept nothing as “the way it is.” Remember that “the way it is” is oppressive and racist (that means if you don’t want to be a racist don’t go along with it!). Listen to people of color without questioning the validity of how they experience the world. Instead reflect on and examine the truth of what they are saying, there is truth there! When you get called out don’t get defensive, again, LISTEN!
Most importantly pay attention to how Whiteness and white supremacy is hurting you. Pay attention to how being complicit with the system separates us from the majority of humanity. When we understand our own self-interest in dismantling white supremacy we become powerful accomplices in creating a new world.
What will be truly surprising is not another police killing, those happen every 28 hours in this country, what would be truly surprising, in an entirely good way, is a mass of white folks ready to unlearn the violence of white supremacy and standing up to people like Freeman and police apologists across the country. More and more people are waking up and joining the struggle.We can all add to that number by switching our frame and encouraging others to do the same. That is real work. That is work that will make a difference. That is bottom up power building. Let’s get to it.