On November 15, 2015, Minneapolis police shot and killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old, unarmed black man. On March 30, 2016, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman led a press conference to share that no charges would be filed and that no further investigation would take place. As a result of that decision, many in the Twin Cities community continue to feel a depth of hurt, grief, outrage, and betrayal. In response to this pain and confusion, Luther Seminary alum and ELCA pastor Rev. Brad Froslee penned a note for his congregation, Calvary Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN). On March 31, this note to the Calvary community was edited and published in The Star Tribune. With Rev. Froslee's permission, we are honored to share this edited text. Please scan to the end for additional thoughts from the Contextual Learning team.
Wednesday was a gray day in Minneapolis. Rain and clouds enveloped the city — the kind of day when all you want to do is wrap up in a blanket with a good book and stay inside and forget about the dreariness outdoors.
Minneapolis is under a cloud of events — of what happened to Jamar Clark last Nov. 15. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has announced that he will not bring charges against the police officers involved in Clark’s shooting. Emotions are high.
For some there is a sense of relief that “his [Clark’s] DNA was on the gun and officer’s belt” and that there is an element of “truth” in the officers’ account. For some there is anger that this is one more story of a young black man being gunned down with no accountability. Lots of people are hurting — wondering what this means for race relations in 2016; how the community and police will find avenues of trust (or even communication); what it will take to actually honor and value the lives of black people in our community.
I have watched videos, I have listened to the radio, I have seen clips of Mike Freeman, and I have heard Nekima Levy-Pounds speak on the air. And the reality is that I’m sad.
First and foremost, I am sad about the end of Clark’s life and for his family. Jamar Clark was a son, a brother, a cousin, a friend. He wasn’t a perfect person, but he had people who cared about him. I know he wasn’t the hero that some have made him out to be, and I know he wasn’t the villain others have portrayed. He was a young man with dreams and aspirations, struggles and demons, gifts and talents, and people who loved him.
I am also sad for the officers involved in this shooting and their families. I’d guess they have replayed these events in their minds over and over again, and have tried to come to terms (yet never will) with what happened. The officers involved are also likely not what any one person or group would have us believe, but rather good, gifted, broken and imperfect people.
Beyond condolences and sorrow, beyond the stuckness of feeling hopeless in the face of broken systems and the legacy of visible and invisible racial slavery and segregation, I know that I need something more.
It is important that I listen and truly hear the voice of Mike Freeman in his role as county attorney. But more important, it is vital that I listen and hear the voices that are not just hurting because of the events surrounding Jamar Clark, but because of every young black man who has ended up dead on the street or hanging from a noose.
Because of every young black girl who is told that she’s not smart enough and should take the “basic” classes.
Because of every black family that has been told that they should buy a house in “their part of town.”
Because of every black child who is made to feel less than others.
Because of every grandmother who has to sit down and have “the talk” with her grandson (about keeping your hands in your pockets when you walk through a store, but out of your pockets when you are on the street; about looking at the ground so as not to offend a passing lady or police officer, but needing to look people directly in the eye when trying to apply for a job that you likely won’t get; about not wearing a hoodie at night on the street; about not sagging your pants; about being OK with asking a girl to a dance and her saying yes, and then changing her mind after her parents talk to her).
I need to again wrestle with the privileges that I have as a white middle-class man living in the United States. I need to hear and dwell in the “Good Friday” of despair that is so well known to many in our community.
Yes, this is about Jamar Clark. Yes, this is about the city of Minneapolis and its police department. But if we only hear those two sides and get stuck debating DNA on a gun, or handcuffs on … or off … or on one hand, or bad pixelation on videos, or being right and wrong, then we will miss the far greater opportunity to change the narrative of our city, state and nation.
I need to proclaim that black lives matter, and it’s not because of or in spite of Jamar Clark. It is for the 17-year-old black youth who showed up at the church because he wanted a pastor to pray with him and help him turn his life around; it’s for the black almost-teenager who is balancing sports and good grades; for the young girl with the biggest smile who sings out in church and is getting straight A’s; for the 50-year-old man who may have to go to prison for a dumb mistake (and terrible sentencing guidelines) which he has owned and which has challenged him to turn his life around; it is for the faithful black women who pull themselves up over and over again for the sake of family, friends, and work, and are never given a real pat on the back; it is for the black gay man who has broken barrier after barrier to succeed and become a successful actor and singer.
In the Christian church, we are dwelling in the season of Easter. It is a season that proclaims new life in the face of death. It is a time that shouts to the world that God is at work in and through the mess and will do a new thing. It is the narrative of resurrection — for God’s people and creation.
The narrative of resurrection is for all people, yet we cannot proclaim “all” when segments of the population are dismissed or diminished. That is the sad but very real reality.
Black lives matter to God — to me — precisely because God continues to speak a word of hope and resurrection to those who, at any time, are most marginalized or held down. When that changes, I will sing a new song, but for today the work of resurrection takes on greater specificity. Today, I will pray for Jamar’s memory and his family; I will pray for the officers and their families. Today I will say that black lives matter and strive to do one thing that will proclaim a little resurrection here and now.
Together may we stand on the promise of life overcoming the powers of death. Together may we step into new relationship and proclaim that black lives matter.
What instinctual feelings do you recognize in yourself as you consider Jamar Clark's case? What assumptions have you made about Jamar Clark's character, or about the character of the police? Rev. Froslee is a white male in a position of power, like many of you; how will you use your personal and positional power? What word of hope and resurrection can you share with the members of your community? Who might be seeking justice and resurrection in your life, and how can you reach out to them? What does being a Christian public leader in times of injustice look like to you? What does being an Easter person mean to you in an age of #blacklivesmatter?