For the past week, Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis have been competing for headlines with the terror attacks in Paris. If not for the latter, events surrounding the shooting death of another black male suspect during an altercation with police might have attracted the same level of attention as similar incidents around the nation.
The situation in Minneapolis is not ideal for the Black Lives Matter movement. The “victim” in this case isn’t particularly sympathetic, an alleged domestic abuser with prior arrests. Nevertheless, the local Black Lives Matter chapter has proceeded as if he were “executed” in cold blood by a malicious police department.
Joining a bipartisan panel of politicos from the area on the “Wrong About Everything” podcast this past weekend, I sought to understand the cultural context which produces these protests. The panel included Republican lobbyist and rural city council member Mike Franklin, Black Lives Matter activist and nonprofit professional Carin Mrotz, Democratic National Committeeman and local SEIU president Javier-Morillo-Alicea, and yours truly — Republican activist and suburban city council member Walter Hudson.
The following is an excerpt of our discussion, which reveals one of the cultural misconceptions that fuel such protests:
Carin: …About 1 a.m. [on Sunday, November 15th] down on Plymouth and James Avenue outside of The Elks [in north Minneapolis] what we know is that, while apprehending a man named Jamar Clark [Minneapolis], police shot him and it was a fatal injury. He ultimately went to the hospital and was pronounced dead several days later. So that is what we know.
Mike: And there’s… that’s accidentally a great point Carin… the real core of the rest of the story is that there are not many facts in this case that are not in dispute. And so every other reaction or subsequent action is sort of analyzed through the prism of what facts are more persuasive to you.
Carin: Well, I mean, there are additional facts… there are the facts surrounding the situation which is that… black men are disproportionately targeted for low-level crimes. Black men disproportionately fill prison beds relative to the size of the actual population. We know that black people report just consistent unfair treatment and targeting and brutalization by the police. So there are actually other facts that I don’t feel that we should dispute in the context of talking about this story.
Mike: Fine. But then, are there not facts about this [deceased] gentleman — in particular [Clark] and his actions and alleged actions that evening — that should then also be part of the story?
Javier: … I would add to the facts about even just the incident that he was unarmed, and no one disputes that.
Mike: Actually, that’s not true, because the police are disputing that.
Javier: Well, now, we’ll get to that. That’s Bob Kroll, head of the [Minneapolis] police union. The official police statement has said no —
Mike: That [Clark] had not obtained control of the officer’s weapon? Because —
Javier: The police chief [Janée Harteau] has said nothing about that. The head of the police union has made several controversial statements…. Allegedly, there had been a 911 call —
Carin: It was domestic violence, and then the ambulance was taking the female [Clark’s alleged victim] away… [Clark] left on foot, and then came back and was tussling with the EMTs. The initial early, early story from bystanders that were there at The Elks and watched this happen was that he was getting into it with the paramedics, not the cops. And paramedics are not armed, I believe.
Javier: No, they’re not. And so they called the cops…. And so, in whatever scuffle [between the police and Clark], a gun went off [and Clark] was shot in the head…. The point I want to make with saying that he was unarmed… my question in all this is in terms of training of our police forces…. I just don’t understand why more people don’t seem to be, like, shot in the foot or something [crosstalk] —
Mike: We have the perfect guy to respond to that.
Walter: Yeah, absolutely. I can speak to that, not entirely directly, but somewhat directly because, even though I’m not a police officer and I haven’t received police training, I do work in the public safety industry and have received training that’s similar to what police receive in terms of being armed and use of force and what have you.
First of all, this idea of aiming for a particular body part, I think it’s a notion fueled mostly by our conceptions of violence that we get from Hollywood. That you can, you know, precision shoot somebody in the hand or the foot or the leg or what have you. People are trained, police are trained, and anybody who goes through a use of force training class or gun class is trained, to aim for the center of mass, the middle of the chest. The reason why is that’s your best chance to actually hit somebody. And your goal, when situations have escalated to the point where you’re using lethal force, your goal is to stop the threat. Now, if in stopping the threat you also end a life, it is what it is. But if you’re trying to take the time to differentiate between heads, feet, legs, arms, you’re taking precious seconds and fractions of seconds that could mean losing your life. And that’s not the objective. The objective is to stop the threat and to preserve your life and to preserve the lives of other innocents in the situation. So it’s not very reasonable from a practical perspective to expect that a police officer would take those extra seconds or fractions of seconds to aim for a non-lethal hit when lethal force is what is called for.
Now, granted, that’s all in the laboratory of theory, right? We still don’t know what the actual facts of the situation were, and we’re probably not going to know for several months. Be that as it may, the idea that — and I would push back a little bit on this notion of [Clark] being unarmed being a big deal, because the question becomes: at what point does it become a lethal threat when somebody is trying to take your gun? I mean, they’re not taking it so that they can then get it and be like, “Ha! Ha! Alright, let’s go get a drink.” You know, they’re taking it because they have an intent to use it. That has to be the presumption.
Recall that a focus on “unarmed” suspects has dominated the Black Lives Matter movement since it coalesced in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. The idea seems to be that unarmed suspects should never be shot, specifically because they are unarmed. That notion is born of ignorance regarding the use of force and how violence plays out in the real world.
Police are not interested in fair fights. Nor should they be. They’re interested in stopping bad guys and coming home to their families each night.