The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Outrage and little clarity in Minneapolis after black man is shot by police

A young black man was shot by a police officer in Minneapolis early Sunday morning.

On that much, police and the protesters who marched through the streets of Minneapolis Sunday agree. But on other, crucial points — Was the man handcuffed when he was shot? Is he even still alive? — there is little consensus or clarity.

Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Bruce Folkens said at a news conference that police were called to the scene of an assault around 12:45 a.m. Sunday. En route, they learned that a man was interfering with paramedics’ efforts to treat his alleged victim. When officers arrived, they got into a “physical altercation” with the man, who was not in handcuffs. One officer fired his weapon at some point during the struggle; the man, whom they have not named, was hit and taken to a local hospital.

Activists and witnesses at the scene tell a different story.

Multiple people who saw the shooting say that the man was not resisting police and was in handcuffs when he was shot in the head. Speaking to local TV station KTSP, family members identified him as 24-year-old Jamar Clark. State representative Raymond Dehn (D), who represents the district where Clark was shot, tweeted that the young man was on life support. His family said he is brain dead.

“Jamar Clark was murdered, execution style,” read a statement from the Minneapolis-St Paul Chapter of the NAACP that was posted to the organization’s Facebook page Sunday.

[See The Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings in 2015]

Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) will now conduct an independent investigation of the shooting that activists have described as Minneapolis’s Ferguson moment. The August 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparked demonstrations nationwide.

On Sunday, the group Black Lives Matter, which gained momentum in the wake of the Ferguson shooting, organized a protest through the streets of Minneapolis, ending at the front door of a police precinct near the site of the shooting. Pounding drums and shouting “Prosecute the police,” they demanded to be let inside.

“We have been saying for a significant amount of time that Minneapolis is one bullet away from Ferguson,” Minneapolis NAACP member Jason Sole told Minnesota Public Radio on Sunday. “That bullet was fired last night. We want justice immediately.”

The two police officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the BCA investigation, police chief Janeé Harteau said at a news conference Sunday. That is a standard protocol. Harteau also urged people with knowledge of the case to speak to the BCA.

“We need to know exactly what happened,” she said. “We need to know the truth. Everyone involved needs that and deserves that.”

[Two dozen unarmed black men were shot by police in 2015]

At the same news conference, BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said there were handcuffs at the scene of the shooting, but “preliminarily, the suspect was not in handcuffs.” Evans would not provide details about the man’s condition, but said that he was being treated at Hennepin County Medical Center.

In the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, many mistrust authorities’ account.

Nekila Sharp, a witness to the shooting, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that an ambulance was called when the man and his girlfriend got into an argument. The man tried to talk to his girlfriend as paramedics took her away, and then police arrived and confronted him.

“That young man never struggled, he never resisted, he never got out of line with them,” Sharp said. “When they cuffed him, they cuffed him hand in hand and they slapped that man down. … When he looked up, the only thing he could say was ‘F you. F you.’ And there was the bullet.”

A large crowd had gathered at the corner of Plymouth and James avenues as emergency responders and police swarmed to the scene. In a video taken just after the man was shot, upset onlookers can be heard shouting and cursing at officers. “That’s our [expletive] brother on the [expletive] ground,” a male voice yells. “Ya’ll just killed that man,” a woman wails.

Witnesses also told the Star Tribune that officers pushed the crowd away from the site of the shooting. They said several people were pepper sprayed.

“There is so much anger and pain, and it’s combined with a lack of information,” Steven Belton, interim president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Urban League, told the Associated Press.

Harteau and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges held a community listening session at the Urban League Sunday. But the gathering fell apart as participants were drowned out by shouts of “Justice for who? Jamar!” according to the Star-Tribune.

The protesters led by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis refused to attend the meeting, the newspaper reported. They were convinced that the BCA would not be impartial in its investigation. The group is demanding that police release security camera footage allegedly taken from a nearby building and has called for an independent federal investigation of the incident.

Several protesters remained staked outside a door to the nearby police station late Sunday night. They said they’ll take shifts at the entryway until the two officers involved are fired or indicted.

“We’re here because police officers have gotten away with murder for so long and we’re tired of it,” Mica Grimm, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune.

Earlier in the day, people lingered on the street where the shooting had occurred, taping posters and balloons to a lamppost. Standing among a crowd of her neighbors, Tequila Dillon told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that her 10-year-old son witnessed the shooting.

“My baby came in the bathroom, where I was taking a shower,” she said, her tone brittle as she recalled the events of the previous night. “He said, ‘Mom, they’re killing us.’ “