Police/community meeting turns ugly

Law enforcement panel cut short as tensions rise

Members of Philando Castile’s family look on (at photo center) during one of the heated exchanges leading to the meeting’s premature end. (Chris Juhn/MSR News)
By Ivan B. Phifer
Contributing Writer

“We are tired of hearing a bunch of lies, and that’s all we are hearing,” said an emotional James Clark, the biological father of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who died November 15 last year at the hands of Minneapolis police.

This was one of many sentiments expressed at the law enforcement panel that took place at Wayman’s AME Church, 1221 7th Ave. in North Minneapolis, on Saturday, December 3 around 4 pm. The purpose of the meeting was for the community and law enforcement to have a discussion regarding recent deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers. The event did not seem to be broadly advertised.

“I have heard a lot,” said Dr. Alphonse Reff, Sr. Reverend of Wayman’s AME Church. “We cannot make the changes we need to make if we cannot talk to each other. We know families and people are hurting, have gone through trials and tribulations, and [the families] have a lot of questions they need the answers to.”

The panel consisted of Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputy Kellace McDaniel, Deputy Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Police Union President Bob Kroll, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, and MN Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. The families of those who lost their lives as a result of law enforcement officers’ actions, Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, were also in attendance.

Occupying the front row of the audience was Dr. Reff, the event moderator. The first question asked was in regards to mandatory minimum sentences.

MN Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey (l) and Police Union President Bob Kroll. (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

“In my view, they require sentencing that is inappropriate,” said Freeman. “The mandatory minimum I continue to support is 60-day holding for felons, people who have committed violent crimes, and those who are in possession of an illegal firearm. Those are the ones who are committing most of the violent crimes in the city.”

The question that made tensions rise was directed to Commissioner Kevin Lindsey: “Out of the 13 people shot and killed by law enforcement officers, were any of these shootings in your mind a civil rights violation? If so, which case, and what is the department currently doing about the situation?”

Lindsey answered, “It is a jurisdiction matter. The department investigates the matter and the department of justice at the federal and state level is generally subsequent to criminal prosecution.”

During Lindsey’s effort to answer the question, an audience members interrupted: “Excuse me, I believe the question was, how do you feel about the situation, not the department.”

“They are putting on a dog-and-pony show,” said another community member from the audience.

In an attempt to bring the meeting back to order, a few members of the audience apologized for their actions.

“I’m from one of the oldest African American families in this city,” said one audience member. “I cry when I see injustice. I was raised in the AME church. When someone asks me a question pertaining to the community, it’s my responsibility to tell you what I feel.

“This man asked you how you feel about his son being killed in the street,” continued the person. “The rhetoric you provide has nothing to do with that!”

In response to this statement, Commissioner Lindsey hastily rose from his seat to talk face-to-face with the community member to address the statement.

Another question asked that also gave rise to tension was, “Is there anything you regret [that] you could have done differently?”

Chief Arradondo stated one of his biggest regrets, in addition to not taking more time to learn the history of Minneapolis, was in reference to Black Lives Matter. “I am a product of the civil rights era, the sit-in, boycotts, what have you. I realized when Black Lives Matter came into my community I had no right to tell any organization what their tactics should be just to make myself comfortable.”

Freeman said one of his biggest regrets as the county’s top prosecutor was using grand juries to investigate the shootings of civilians by police, admitting that the process lacked transparency. This includes the decision earlier this year to acquit the two officers responsible for the murder of Jamar Clark.

In response to Freeman, Clark said, “You tell people if anybody knows anything to come forward, but how do you dismiss the testimony of 20 witnesses over two cops? You’re the one who made the decision the officers [who killed Jamar] were not guilty. When we do come forward to tell what happened and you don’t believe us, what is that?

“You act as if my son was nobody and deserved what he got,” Clark continued. “How would you feel if your son got killed by a cop?”

In the crowd somebody shouted, “Stop yelling! We don’t get anywhere by yelling!”

This prompted the mother of Philando Castile, to get up and walk out, frustrated. “Let’s go!” she said.

The meeting ended an hour and 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Dr. Reff said he felt the environment was no longer safe or conducive to hold the forum.

 

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes readers’ responses to iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com.