Fault Lines
20 May 2017

Calling Bullshit On Refusing To Release The Jamar Clark Video

Feb. 11, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Another black man shot dead by the police. Another American city in turmoil over the inescapable disparity in treatment between communities based upon the color of their skin.  Another video of the incident that shows … well, we don’t know what it shows.

On Tuesday, the NAACP of Minneapolis and the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit requesting that the judicial branch of our government order the enforcement branch of our government to release video footage of the November 15, 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police officers. As is often the case, the accounts of how Clark died are quite different.

The police version, delivered by the ever-unbiased head of the Minneapolis police union, is that the police were called to the location because Clark was violently interfering with paramedics who were attempting to treat his girlfriend.  While two officers tried to restrain Clark, he reached for one of their firearms and was shot in the head.

Several civilian witnesses claim that the police cuffed Jamar Clark, slammed him to the ground and shot him in the head in what sounds very much like an execution.  Regardless of whom you choose to believe, you are forced to make a choice based only upon differing accounts and almost no evidence.  The NAACP and ACLU are attempting to address this uncertainty with their lawsuit.  From the complaint:

The police killing of Jamar Clark laid bare the broken relationship that exists between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community it serves, particularly its relationship with people and communities of color in Minneapolis. Secrecy and lack of transparency has served to deepen the chasm between police and the community by reinforcing the community’s fear that police will not be held accountable for their acts of misconduct.

And the police response is as enlightening as it is surprising.

Police officials have refused to release the videos, according to Tuesday’s complaint, with the head of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension claiming that doing so “would impact the integrity of the investigation that’s ongoing currently, and would impact the integrity of the eventual prosecutorial review process that will be pending at the conclusion of our investigation.”

To borrow from one of Brooklyn’s favorite legal sons, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, “Everything that guy just said is bullshit. Thank you.” Cousin Vinny always was a bit of a wordsmith. But yes, the notion that police must keep evidence shielded from the public to preserve the “integrity” of the “investigation” is bullshit.

That same “integrity” never seems to bar the public release of all the sordid criminal acts committed by [insert name of non-cop here]. Police departments and prosecutor’s offices all over the country employ press liaisons to let the public know not to worry, they got the bad guy. There is never any issue with dumping buckets of poison into the jury pool when the person in the cross-hairs is a lowly civilian. It is remarkable to watch those same liaisons do a full 180 when someone within the law enforcement family is (or might be) the bad guy. How rapidly they switch into defense mode, ensuring that their guy gets an obscenely “fair” shake that is never extended to the rest of us.

Another reason the police are refusing to release the Jamar Clark video is the typical “trust us” defense. Minneapolis government officials have claimed that while there are indeed videos related to the Jamar Clark shooting, “no video shows the entire incident.” Again, bullshit. Not bullshit for the content of the statement, but rather for its supposed validity as a basis to keep the videos hidden.

Totality is not the standard for relevance. Any information, however, miniscule or unrelated, is relevant. A video that shows three officers getting out of their cars near the shooting might not answer the ultimate question, but it is evidence that these three particular officers were there. This can lead to further investigation, which again, could lead to relevant information.

But if a video related to the incident shows nothing, that is also relevant information. Check it off the list and keep digging. There are certainly plenty of shovels sitting idly by while the police talk about an investigation that is anything but.

It is still up in the air, but we may have crossed the Rubicon of police credibility. In the fight for police accountability, one of the largest barriers was the ever-present presumption that the police were the good guys, always to be trusted. The dead perp was always a “threat” that was justifiably neutralized. But with every Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice, the presumption that favors the honest cop shifts further and further towards skepticism.

The logic of this equation is grade-school easy. When the police have video or evidence that has shown that their actions were justified, they release that information right away. Therefore, when the police refuse to release video that we know they have, their motive is clearly to conceal damning evidence from the public eye. The nonsensical talking points about “integrity of the investigation” or “incomplete evidence” are, again, bullshit. Having trouble? Here is a simple flow chart in case you need a little help.

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Have the Minneapolis Police released the video of the Jamar Clark? They have not.  This could only mean that the Minneapolis police do not want the public to see the video.

The Minneapolis police are presented with three choices.  One, they can continue to fight the release of the video.  This seems to be their choice but it is not without risk.  Look at what has happened in Chicago after the release of the Laquan McDonald video, where the police chief was fired and the mayor and state’s attorney are on the ropes. Sure, the Minneapolis powers-that-be may be able to weather this storm, but if the video is ordered to be released, some big heads might roll.

Two, they could try to provide an adult explanation as to why they don’t want the video released. But before those stale sound bites start spilling out, the police should give it some serious thought.  You are no longer talking to Opie from Mayberry, you are talking to Vinny from Brooklyn.  And all of the communities of color that have taken to your streets and shaken the ground under the feet of the powerful.

The police have forfeited their right to be the gatekeepers for what we, the public, should and should not see. Our delicate sensibilities regarding the reality of policing have been hardened by witnessing years of police abuse and misconduct.  After a fatal shooting like the one that occurred in Minneapolis in November, the public no longer accepts the police narrative as truth.

But there is always the third option. Release the damn video.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • Eva
    11 February 2016 at 10:44 am - Reply

    “That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.” (1992 “My Cousin Vinny” Judge Haller)

    • dm
      11 February 2016 at 12:50 pm - Reply

      If I recall correctly, the next line was “DENIED.” Hopefully that won’t be the case with this video.