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First step in building community trust and justice: Acknowledge past harms

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
I wonder where my fellow citizens who are black will find any sense of hope or justice in this process.

I had a sad and empty feeling in my heart after hearing Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman explain his legal reasoning for not charging Minneapolis police officers involved in the shooting death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man.

Tom Fiebiger

As an attorney, I understood the need to make your best argument to justify such a decision. But as a person of white privilege in a Minneapolis broken by continued systemic racism, I wonder where my fellow citizens who are black will find any sense of hope or justice in this process.

The decision presented by Freeman was geared to be the best legal argument he could muster for not prosecuting these officers, not the factual recitation of what actually happened that night and that many black citizens needed to hear.

Dramatic, troubling video

The video presented by Freeman was not particularly helpful to the case he was attempting to make. But the dramatic and troubling video that was shown had one officer making a dramatic takedown of Jamar Clark, who from the video did not appear to be resisting and still had his hands in his pockets.

Freeman intentionally described how the technique used by the officer to take down Clark was learned when the officer worked in San Diego. But this is Minneapolis. My understanding of Minneapolis police protocol is that you do not physically grab someone with a choke hold and throw them to the ground when they are not physically resisting. That appears to be what happened, but it was not explained that way.

Clark made some bad choices. But so did trained white officers carrying lethal weapons and who signed on voluntarily — to protect and serve.

Before you look to criticize Black Lives Matter (BLM) or post a comment on social media questioning what “these people” are trying to accomplish, please reflect on the Minneapolis that white citizens experience and the very different Minneapolis black citizens experience.

The Minneapolis police department has acted in inappropriate and discriminatory ways over the years, resulting in our city paying out millions of dollars to settle claims of police brutality. It is my understanding that no officers have been charged in police involved shootings since 2000.

Curious response to peaceful occupation

A curious initial response to the 4th precinct peaceful occupation was our City Council hurriedly trying to pass an amendment to the budget to spend over $600,000 to essentially fortify the 4th precinct — and protect the police. Only after community outrage making it clear police were not the ones needing protection was the proposed amendment taken off the table. But the amendment action by the council demonstrates a troublesome lack of understanding of the broken trust between the police and citizens of color. Where nuance and sensitivity were needed, they were missing.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s video in advance of Freeman’s charging decision was inflammatory and did nothing to foster trust between black citizens and police.

We continue to find huge economic disparities between white and black citizens in Minneapolis. We have a city where our school district is failing our children of color. We would never stand for that if we were failing our white children and grandchildren. Our school board is struggling to even figure out how to hire a new superintendent.

Healthy, ambitious goals

A group from our church in north Minneapolis recently met with police department leaders as part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Minneapolis is one of only a handful of cities selected to participate in this initiative. The plan has many healthy and ambitious goals, and the implementation process began last fall. One of the parts of the initiative on “Reconciliation and Truth-Telling Process” specifically provides, “The National Initiative team will develop the component parts of a reconciliation and truth-telling process tailored specifically to the MPD and marginalized communities of Minneapolis, including an acknowledgement of historical harms, narrative sharing, and a commitment to reform … .”

People of color in north Minneapolis are hurting. They’re angry. They don’t trust police. Our meeting with police felt like a good start. We were grateful for all who showed up and engaged in dialogue.

Perhaps at this difficult time it might be helpful and healing for Chief Harteau to begin the reconciliation process with an “acknowledgement of historical harms.” That seems to me to likely be a critical first step in any truly authentic “initiative.”

Tom Fiebiger lives in Minneapolis and is a recovering civil rights lawyer and politician, having spent 25 years representing workers in North Dakota and Minnesota that were discriminated against. He also served a term in the North Dakota Senate.


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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/09/2016 - 10:20 am.


    In thinking about this, one place, although certainly not the only place to start is the ABA rules on when to bring charges. Here is a portion of rule 3-3.9

    “(a) A prosecutor should not institute, or cause to be instituted, or permit the continued pendency of criminal charges when the prosecutor knows that the charges are not supported by probable cause. A prosecutor should not institute, cause to be instituted, or permit the continued pendency of criminal charges in the absence of sufficient admissible evidence to support a conviction.”

    Did Mr. Freeman’s decision not to prosecute in this case violate this rule? If it did, should Mr. Freeman have brought charges anyway?

    Here is a link to the rules.

  2. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 04/09/2016 - 10:51 am.

    Walking in a ten-year old’s Adidas?

    About all one can do nowadays when the force-is-not-with-you and you’re a black kid in your own neighborhood

    … and let’s say it’s a bright Spring morning and you’re on your way to school and all your homework is stuffed in your book bag and along comes the neighborhood cop or a cop car cruising and you don’t feel ‘protected’ anymore?

    .A positive suggestion: take your hands out of your pocket, yes, and give the cop a fine wave; both hands now…waving with all ten fingers…sad, but best I can suggest at this point…I would if I were ten and in your shoes?

    Then again maybe it’s not such a good idea…never know how they’ll respond, react?

    But one thing for sure… may all kids in your neighborhood still have hope for a better day…god bless, whomever…

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/09/2016 - 12:08 pm.


    From the title I thought this was going to be about rebuilding community trust. Instead, it was mostly just another poorly made attack on Freeman’s decision not to charge.

    As an attorney, and assuming you actually looked at the evidence, you should know that Freeman’s decision was very sound. There was no way the officers would ever be convicted with the evidence at hand.

    That doesn’t mean the officers handled this well. It doesn’t mean that African-Americans have been treated very poorly by police. But by focusing on something on which you are completly wrong – the decision not to charge – you undermine those arguments as well.

    • Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/09/2016 - 10:41 pm.

      Same reaction

      It reminds me of the much derided commentary that asserted it was police violence that was holding back the economy of the north side as though the underlying level of crime had nothing to do with it. The police need to improve their approach to the community but that isn’t going to lower the murder rate, or the amount of drug deals, or the other crimes that impact the law abiding majority of the north side every day.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/11/2016 - 08:07 am.

      Couldn’t get beyond paragraph 2

      I hope this attorney doesn’t practice criminal law! Because Clark wasn’t “unarmed”, he was “attempting to become armed”.

      Here, I was hoping there would be mention of how BOTH SIDES need to talk about “Past Harms”. Two paragraphs in, I knew we were never gonna get there.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/11/2016 - 02:56 pm.


      Continuing to look for someone to hang isn’t how you start to look for healing. While at least one of the officers need to be fired for being a terrible cop, that does not mean that there wasn’t justification for use of deadly force in this situation, let alone sufficient evidence to prove /beyond a reasonable doubt/ that the officers committed a crime in using deadly force. To pin all hopes of “justice” on getting a conviction on one of those cops is actually an injustice.

      Cops need to do better. Everyone needs to do better.

    • Submitted by Mike martin on 04/11/2016 - 03:07 pm.

      Where are the finger prints

      Jamar’s finger prints were not on the gun, or gun belt. IMO DNA is weak evidence in this situation. Freeman never said how much of the police officer’s DNA was on Jamar. Were there any cop finger prints on Jamar? Freeman never said.

      I question how easy it was for Jamar to move his arm with a 200+lbs police officer laying on top of him. Someone that probably weighted close to double what Jamar weighted

      Why didn’t the officer just roll off of Jamar? Jamar wasn’t holding him down.

      Between the time Jamar was shot and the 2 cops were put in the squad car they had time to get there stories straight.

      Going from Hi to bang your dead, in 61 seconds is very very aggressive behavior by the police. That is not acceptable IMO

      Freeman only presented information to support his decision not all the information/evidence.

      During evening rush hour at 12th & Nicollect saw a white police man spray something in the face of a black man that out weighted him by about 75 lbs. The black man fell to the group immediately asif he had been shot. 2 more police men showed up and all three proceeded to the kick S— out of a black man that was just helplessly laying there. This maneuver cost Minneapolis a lot of money in a civil lawsuit.

      Didn’t Freeman have a choice of what he could charge the officers with from 1st degree murder to 3rd degree manslaughter? Murder one isn’t appropriate in IMO but Manslaughter IMO is the correct decision & charge.

      If these cops aren’t fired then Mpls will have a new mayor and city council in 2017

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/11/2016 - 04:38 pm.

        Reasonable Doubt

        Not that a lot of people would have listened to him, but maybe Freeman should have spent more time talking about the burden of proof in criminal cases and how conflicting evidence affects that burden. If there is one thing that has come from this, it is a lot of really bad legal analysis, including from some actual lawyers like the guy who wrote this piece.

        Of course murder one is not appropriate. If there was going to be a charge, it likely would have been manslaughter. And based on the evidence, there is no way these cops would have been convicted of manslaughter. Freeman did exactly what he should have done based on the evidence.

        Freeman may not have presented everything some people felt was important. But he did present all the evidence necessary to back up his decision. The non-police witnesses were inconsistent and the testimony of some of them was inconsistent with the forensic evidence. The defense lawyers would absolutely pick them apart at trial. The fact that Clark’s girlfriend (or maybe not his girlfriend) changed her story similarly helps the defense. You need a clean, tidy story to get a conviction in a case like this, and the evidence is a big mess. It would be very easy to find reasonable doubt.

        I expect that Minneapolis will pay out in a civil suit, where the standards are lower. I would not be shocked if the cops get fired, which again is a very different standard. But going on about how Freeman was wrong and the cops should have been charged is nonsense. The people pushing that line of argument are just making fools of themselves and undermining their cause.

  4. Submitted by tom kendrick on 04/10/2016 - 08:22 am.


    Enough of the “public schools are failing our kids of color” nonsense. Teachers work hard, and they work with whomever walks into their classrooms, and in the public schools that means anybody and everybody. Most teachers bend over backwards trying to make things work for all their students, especially the neediest, many of them children of color. Yes, racism does exist among the teaching profession (as it surely exists throughout our population), but our schools simply reflect our society. Right now a lot of our schools serve kids from broken and violent homes, where needs are profound, and most teachers give their all to assuage the awful conditions many kids face at home. But “home” remains, by far, the most powerful teacher our kids have. Let’s fix that first.

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 04/10/2016 - 09:58 am.

    Keeping it going…

    because it’s the only issue going.

    We’ve been here very many times over the years, have we not?

  6. Submitted by tom larsen on 04/15/2016 - 10:41 am.

    Hind sight is 20/20, but blind rage is not “reasonable”

    TF posits “no resistance, hand still in pockets”. I see a violent thrust at the neck and arms restrained from THE NATURAL REFLEX that one must expect from Jamar Clark. Some thing was restraining
    this reflex. It was not Mark R’s hand as this was already moved to his neck. He was in handcuffs.
    Riggenberg snapped and decided he wanted to take capital punishment into his own hands. A real
    struggle occurs when you try to remove handcuffs and “the(fill in the blank) resists”.. Handcuffs. Now you see them, now you don’t. Explains alot of the conflicting witness reports. Explains a struggle.This was sinister. There are numerous other facts that tell a darker story, if you consider a scenario where a cop goes bad. “Prove” he was going for a gun. “Prove” you had any resistance. “Prove” that some of the officers statements are untrue and establish a basis to believe none of it. Admit here was a young guy concerned about an injured friend and uniformed white guys who won’t answer any reasonable questions. Bad language, “(fill in the blank), yeah!” Upset for being arrested for doing nothing “(fill in the blank), yeah!”. Reasonable officer? Please.

    I am not “vilifying” these guys. But I am seriously concerned about their apparent behavior.

    There are some cases with no evidence. This is not one of them. This is Darren Wilson. This is Van Dyke.
    I think there are many officers that wish they were in Mark & Dustin’s shoes that night. Would have been a radically different outcome for us all. Many cops have seen the evidence by now. Now we need to “take the liberty” to examine over some time what was in the heads of these guys who are armed, dangerous, and on the loose. That’s Mike Freeman’s job. He’s an accessory after the fact up to this point. My opinion.
    To label this “reasonable” in unfair to all the “reasonable cops” and sends a cruel chill thru the community. These guys need close attention as well. Maybe not the best line of work for them? Repeated excessive force, you know. What will they think of themselves when a mature conscience relives their reckless youth. They have some hard truths to ponder. But they can and can be redeemed…perhaps.

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