Commentary Race

The #Justice4Jamar Protests Are a Reproductive Justice Issue

Andrea Plaid

The media coverage and governmental responses to the protests in Minneapolis are missing the message that the community is protesting that the police shot Jamar Clark before he had his day in court as someone facing domestic violence charges.

The way the press in Minneapolis, Minnesota, initially reported the Twin Cities’ reaction to the police shooting Jamar Clark is “Black Lives Matter is acting up again—and for no good reason.” That narrative loses the message of why the community is protesting: The police shot Clark before he had his day in court as someone facing domestic violence charges.

In the rush to keep up appearances that the Twin Cities are progressive and “nice,” even as white supremacists further belied that notion by shooting five protesters on November 23, the media coverage and governmental responses are missing the fact that the protests are a reproductive justice matter.

Facts are still unfolding, but here is what has become apparent so far. In the early morning of Sunday, November 15, police and paramedics responded to a domestic violence call in North Minneapolis between Clark and his girlfriend, who lived in the area. The paramedics were giving medical treatment to the girlfriend. Clark, according to reports, tried to interfere with the her treatment. Onlookers say Clark was then handcuffed, a claim the police have denied. One of the two officers on the scene—either Mark Ringgenberg or Dustin Schwarze—allegedly shot Clark in the head. According to Clark’s father, James Hill, he was brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. His family took him off mechanical support on November 16. As of this article, Ringgenberg and Schwarze are on administrative leave.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis (BLM-Minn) acted like a social media first responder on November 15, alerting its Facebook community of nearly 20,000 people about the shooting as members also used the platform to gather more information about the details from the people who live in the community. The chapter, along with the local NAACP, led a peaceful march and occupation of the 4th Precinct police station later on that Sunday and stated activists would stay in the building and on the property until five initial demands were met.

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These demands were to see footage from the incident; for an independent organization—not the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is attached to Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, also known as the police—to investigate the shooting; for the media to cover what eyewitnesses saw, not just the police’s perspective; for community oversight with full disciplinary power; and for police officers to live in the communities they serve. Thanks to laws advocated for by not only police unions, but also teachers’ unions and parents, this is not currently a requirement in Minneapolis.

On Monday, November 16, another mix of protesters—including leaders from Black Lives Matter and the local NAACP, other community organizers, and supporters—shut down Interstate 94, about a 30-minute walk from the 4th Precinct police station. Forty-three adults and eight youths were arrested, according to BLM-Minn, and they were released the next day.

Other Minneapolitans and St. Paulites who may not have been able to participate in the direct actions donated food, water, hand warmers, money, and other supplies.

And BLM-Minn ultimately boiled down their demands to three: a release of the footage from all of the available cameras that documented the incident on November 15, an independent federal investigation, and the immediate termination of the officers involved in Clark’s shooting.

So far, the Minneapolis Police Department refuses to release any videos from the paramedics’ vehicle, the Ames Elks Lodge across the street from where the police shot Clark, or any other cameras that could have caught the situation as it unfolded. Black Lives Matter did obtain footage from an onlooker of the cops’ treatment of Clark before the shooting. Minneapolis’ mayor, Betsy Hodges, and Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting. The Hennepin County medical examiner has declared Clark’s death a homicide. The local media is slowly changing its coverage, reworking police statements and tired tropes about BLM-Minn instigating violent demonstrations to include what eyewitnesses said about the unfolding events.

In the process, the police are maintaining that the protesters are acting hostilely, if not violently, even though the videos and photos repeatedly appear to show police acting out—including lying about the protesters being paid operatives, displaying a militarized show of force to remove the protesters from the 4th Precinct, and macing protesters. Journalists and other community storytellers have been arrested for covering what’s going on.

On November 20, Black Lives Matter reported on its Facebook page that white supremacists showed up to the 4th Precinct occupation—complete with one carrying a gun—and promised to show up at a candlelight vigil later this past week. The majority of the Minneapolis City Council is either silent or against Black Lives Matters’ demands, as of this writing.

Those are the facts so far.

As Black Lives Matter leaders and supporters have said locally and nationally, the police are killing Black people regardless of innocence or guilt. Clark was killed before he faced charges of domestic violence. The police accord the expectation to live and breathe to other people for the same crimes. Thus, the protesters and supporters feel the case should have been the same for Clark. Law enforcement, however, gave no regard to that. Constant law enforcement and extralegal threats, such as white supremacists, lessen the quality of life for individuals and for any family they want to form or have formed—a core tenet of reproductive justice.

And these threats from the cops and the racially driven citizen groups are bolstered by stereotypes about Black people, namely that Black men are only hyperviolent brutes and Black women are never victims worthy of genuine empathy. Clark’s girlfriend and sister are offered in the media as indictments of Black Lives Matter and the NAACP. Anti-BLM individuals state, under the guise of caring for Clark’s girlfriend, that BLM-Minn supporters are misguided in their protests because Clark allegedly abused his girlfriend, so, the subtle implication is that the Black women running the organizations are choosing to support the Black man over the woman. The naysayers also offer the video of Clark’s sister, Javille Burns, telling the protesters that their actions “have no goal” and are “pissing people off.” In doing so, they are essentially using her as a Trojan horse for their own racially couched arguments of BLM-Minn mindlessly defending “guilty” Black men and, more to the point, pointlessly disrupting the lives of Minnesotans to seek this unearned justice, which they perceive as “violent” even as the videos have shown the protesters staying peaceful.

Again, the protesters aren’t saying that Clark is innocent; they are saying that he didn’t deserve to die before he was able to have his day in court. Black female activists, from Ida B. Wells to Combahee River Collective members to Angela Davis, haven’t separated themselves from Black men or their defense of Black men dealing with the legal and extralegal system from their feminism. More importantly, none of the people raising these counterarguments are publicly offering help, particularly to the girlfriend they wish to use as a proof against the protests. As studies have proven, such stereotyping—like the belief that Black women don’t deserve genuine empathy—further impacts the lives of Black women as we navigate what Melissa Harris-Perry calls the “crooked room” of racism and sexism. We must deal with our familial, reproductive, sexual, and romantic lives in the midst of couched dismissal of our existences in order to serve as the so-called allies’ political counterarguments to those issues directly affecting us.

Yet, in all of this, very few in the media and government are addressing the systemic structures that allow the reproductive justice issues to fester in North Minneapolis and the state itself. That the Huffington Post and 24/7 Wall Street ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul as the third-worst city in the United States for Black Americans is, at best, met with white progressive hand-wringing and the weird double-talk that is the fine art of “Minnesota Nice.” More often than not, the reports and the statistics as to why the Twin Cities ranked so high—high unemployment, low median income, poverty rates, redlining then gentrifying communities of color, and disproportionately high rates of STIs—are met with relative silence, compared to the screaming outrage a person here sees as the reaction to the protests in North Minneapolis.  

Where reproductive justice is manifesting itself, however, is in the coalitions—which are deeper and broader than BLM-Minn and the local NAACP—that have come to support the #Justice4Jamar protests, with individuals across the racial and religious spectrums within and around North Minneapolis attending the protests and representatives from Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Muslim and Arab communities, among others, coming down to show support. Mayor Betsy Hodges may have run on a “One Minneapolis” platform, but she is showing so far that it’s a platitude and not a policy with regard to this situation: She endorsed the police’s behavior, it took her a few days after the shooting to request a federal investigation, seemingly only urging from protesters, and, when confronted about her responses, replied in double-talk. But there are Minneapolitans who are actually engaging in that promise.

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