No grand jury will be used in the Jamar Clark killing or in any police shooting case in Hennepin County again says Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman because grand juries don’t provide enough transparency and accountability. Minneapolis police shot and killed Clark last November setting off a multi-week protest and occupation around a Minneapolis police precinct. Freeman says he will be announcing plans for a new grand jury system in the county.
“To use or not use a grand jury in police shooting cases is a hard decision for me. We have used grand juries in Hennepin County for at least the last 40 years in police shooting cases. On one hand, to have 23 people make a factual decision versus just the prosecutor and his team has appeal. After all, the law that applies is exactly the same whether the facts are applied to that law by a grand jury or a prosecutor. On the other hand, our society, and this prosecutor, believes accountability and transparency are critical concepts for a just and healthy democracy,” said Freeman in a statement released March 16th.
The decision to not use a grand jury came after months of organizing and unrest by communities across the Twin Cities who believe that the grand jury system does not lead to police accountability or transparency.
“Today’s announcement is an acknowledgment that the grand jury is an antiquated legal tool. This decision is a clear reflection of pressure from the community and listening to our concerns about transparency and accountability,” reads a press release from North Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC). They are also hosting a community gathering at their offices on March 16th.
Communities United Against Police Brutality President Michelle Gross who has lobbied against using grand juries was pleased with the decision. “Grand juries have at their root a secrecy that is unacceptable to us,” said Gross.”What needs to happen next is a state law that prohibits that from happening anywhere. We went back and looked as far as we could in history and not a single police officer had ever been indicted through grand jury processes.”
“Hopefully the county attorney is going to do exactly what we asked from the very beginning which is to directly charge those officers.”
Black Lives Matter reaction
A post from Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis on Facebook noted that while this decision by Freeman is a powerful first step towards what they feel is justice for the killing of Jamar Clark, it is just a first step. It reads, “ This is #protestpower. We still don’t have#justice4jamar, but we have a much better chance at it now.”
“I support Mike Freeman’s decision because I believe it will result in a more credible system that is fairer, more transparent, and more just. Freeman’s decision aligns with my work here in Mpls to transform the criminal justice system to increase fairness and accountability,” said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. Hodges was heavily criticized by protesters for her response to the killing of Jamar Clark and the civil unrest which followed.
Grand juries in Minnesota are made up of 23 individuals of diverse backgrounds. The grand jury is a legal tool used to help decide whether or not an individual should be charged with a crime. These individuals are unknown to the communities and the grand jury process is private and held behind closed doors. They have been heavily criticized in cases involving police killings in communities such as Ferguson, Mo, Baltimore, ME. where police-community relationships are fraught.