MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota politicians have spoken out on the Hennepin County Attorney's decision not to charge two Minneapolis police officers in the death of Jamar Clark.
Minnesota House Rep. Raymond Dehn, a Democrat who represents north Minneapolis, was among the first to respond:
"Since the tragic death of Jamar Clark, we've heard the Police Chief call for peace while the community has called for justice. His death brought wider attention to the problems many in our community have been trying to address for decades. Hennepin County Attorney Freeman took the bold step of putting this decision on himself. I'm upset that he chose not to seek charges and know many others in our community will be too. I'm asking those frustrated and angry with this decision to join me in focusing on positive actions that will bring about the changes of existing systems we've been seeking. We all know that the criminal justice system disproportionately negatively impacts communities of color, but now isn't the time to weaken our message with violence."
Later, on Wednesday afternoon, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges issued her response to the decision.
"Today is a hard day for everyone in Minneapolis. Many people are feeling hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration," Hodges said. "My heart breaks for the loss of Jamar Clark's life, and for the pain felt by everyone involved in this incident. There is a tear that has ripped through our community, one we cannot sew back up. And together as a city and a people, we can walk through this tear to build what we all want — a city that is safe and equitable for everyone."
Hodges stressed that protecting the public safety of everyone is the city's top priority.
"I absolutely support the right to express these emotions and demonstrate peacefully," Hodges said. "It is as much the job of the City of Minneapolis to facilitate the peaceful expression of free speech as it is to keep everyone safe: residents, businesses, visitors, police officers, bystanders, and demonstrators."
Hodges also praised Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who solely made the decision not to charge the officers.
"I thank County Attorney Mike Freeman for his transparency, his professionalism, and his willingness to be publicly accountable for his decision. I also appreciate his thorough explanation of the process that he and his office followed to reach the decision, as well as his choice to release all of the evidence obtained during the course of the investigation," she said.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN), who previously asked for a federal investigation into Clark's death, issued his response Wednesday afternoon:
"Today, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to bring criminal charges against two Minneapolis police officers involved in the shooting of Jamar Clark. This decision to decline charges does not absolve our broken criminal justice system. It does not foreclose federal action or civil action for violation of Jamar Clark's civil rights. It does not change the persistent, systemic disparities facing the residents of North Minneapolis, some of which are the worst in the nation.
"There are critical issues we must address if we hope to build trust. We must increase accountability through the use of body cameras. We must improve police training and policies to emphasize de-escalation tactics and the use of non-lethal means whenever possible. We must invest in North Minneapolis, where unemployment is high and opportunities are scarce.
"Transparency is critical to our criminal justice system. Making decisions behind closed doors through a grand jury leads to community distrust. By taking responsibility for the charging decision, County Attorney Freeman set an important precedent for openness and accountability. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, it is important that the evidence is now open to review and that County Attorney Freeman presented his full reasoning to the public.
"Jamar Clark's death has brought pain to his family, friends, neighbors, and community. Nothing about County Attorney Freeman's decision to decline criminal charges diminishes the importance of Jamar's contributions in this world or the sadness of his death.
"It's going to take all of us – elected officials, activists, residents – to make the changes our community desperately needs."
Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement early Wednesday evening where he gave his condolences to Clark's family and friends, and praised Freeman for the transparency in his investigation.
"These events should require all Minnesotans to take a hard look at our criminal justice system, where it works, and where it does not," Dayton said. "We must also confront the serious racial disparities, which wrongfully deny full and equal opportunities to Minnesotans of color. I again urge the Legislature to improve upon, but then pass, my proposals to begin to eliminate those disparities."
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement expressing disappointment in Freeman's decision not to indict in the case.
"We are extremely disappointed that Jamar Clark did not receive justice today. We are left with more questions than answers," CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in the statement. "The video presented today appears to indicate the officers were in fact the instigators of the incident. Our thoughts are with the family."
Clark, 24, was killed during a struggle with two Minneapolis police officers on Nov. 15, 2015. Police were responding to an assault call at the time. They said Clark was trying to prevent paramedics from helping a woman.
Related: Timeline Of The Jamar Clark Case
The police union said Clark reached for an officer's gun during a struggle, and that's why officers shot him. Some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot; the department disputed that claim.
Last year, Dayton said that he had seen video of the incident and called it "inconclusive," saying "it doesn't show anything that would be by any confirmation to one point of view or another."
Clark's death led to weeks of protests by Black Lives Matter outside the 4th Police Precinct in North Minneapolis. During the protests, Rep. Keith Ellison called the demonstrations a response to an "outrageous situation."
"I could never lose sight on what's propelling this whole thing, which is the fact that many people of color, low-income people and even a lot of white people feel that police mistreat them a lot," he said on WCCO Sunday Morning last November.
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