What we all know concerning the police homicide of Winston Smith and the demise of protester Deona Knajdek
Protesters in Minneapolis have been demanding answers for two weeks after police murdered Winston Boogie Smith, a 32-year-old black man, by police. And on Sunday one of those protesters was killed in the Uptown neighborhood when a man drove his SUV into a crowd of protesters; at least two others were injured.
The killed protester was identified by the Star Tribune as Deona Knajdek, a 31-year-old mother of two. The Star Tribune reports that Knajdek posted Facebook messages in the days leading up to her death to support protests against Smith's murder; He was shot dead by police officers on June 3 in a parking lot next to the place where Knajdek was killed.
Her death has put even more focus on the movement to end police brutality in the Minneapolis area – the cause she championed the moment she died – and the ability of law enforcement to protect residents like Knajdek.
While details of the driver's motives are not yet known – no charges have been filed – Minneapolis-based reporter Tony Webster tweeted Monday that the suspect has numerous DWI convictions and drove after his driver's license was deemed "a danger to the public Security "had been withdrawn." Police also said they believed that alcohol and / or drugs may have played a role.
Protesters have been gathering in Uptown since June 3, when Smith was killed in an attempted arrest by a group of law enforcement officers led by US marshals. Smith posted on Snapchat about a lunch he had just before his death. He was cornered by undercover law enforcement officers in unmarked cars when he and the woman he was with returned to his vehicle, which was on a parking ramp near a popular area for dining, shopping, and nightlife Located near downtown Minneapolis.
In a statement released after Smith's shooting, the U.S. marshals alleged that he failed to comply and produced a handgun, which resulted in task force members shooting the subject. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said in a statement that Smith first shot officials and that a gun and spent cartridges were found in his car. But the woman he was with – she was injured by broken glass – disagreed with the official version of events, saying through her attorney last week that she "never saw a gun on Winston Smith and at no time did she have a gun in her Vehicle ”. . "
While the Minneapolis Police Department was not involved in Smith's assassination, his death and the death of Knajdek come at a particularly difficult time for Minneapolis' relationship with law enforcement. Memories of George Floyd's murder remain fresh, as do questions about what it means for his killer to go to jail; In a few months, residents will be able to vote on whether to dissolve and reconsider their police department; and police officers, as well as some politicians, argue that more police are needed to tackle the rising number of violent crimes.
Smith's killing has again revealed a deep-seated distrust of the police
An almost total lack of transparency on the part of the law enforcement agencies involved in the shooting in which Smith was killed has fueled the protests.
While Minneapolis police officers are required to wear bodycams, US marshals don't wear them, and according to MinnPost, marshals "forbid local cops on their task force to wear them." According to the Minnesota BCA, the two officers who confirmed they shot Smith were a deputy of a Hennepin County sheriff and a deputy of a Ramsey County sheriff; neither had on a body camera. And the names of the officers involved in Smith's murder were not made public.
While videos of bystanders were key to understanding what happened in other cases where law enforcement officers killed black men, Smith's shooting took place on a parking ramp largely hidden from the public, and no video has surfaced. So right now, the word of law enforcement against the word of an eyewitness – and unfortunately, recent developments in Minneapolis have given people good reason to view law enforcement statements with skepticism.
For example, consider the statement originally released by the Minneapolis police following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by then-police officer Derek Chauvin.
"Man dies after medical incident during police interaction," it said, with the following text creating the impression that Floyd died of natural causes when the police tried to arrest him.
This was the original statement by the Minneapolis Police Department regarding the death of George Floyd. It is clear that we in the media need to be more skeptical about these publications. And the police need to be more accountable when someone dies in their care. Hat tip to @emarvelous from @ 19thnews. pic.twitter.com/9qKSHvNIXw
– Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid (@JoyAnnReid) April 21, 2021
As a video taped by eyewitnesses and police bodycams quickly revealed, Chauvin actually murdered Floyd by pinning him by the neck with his knee for almost 10 minutes. But in Smith's case, no video has emerged to clear up the discrepancy between what law enforcement is saying and what the woman who was with Smith at the time says.
As USA Today detailed, the lack of body cam footage of Smith's murder has become a major point of contention for protesters demanding that local law enforcement agencies stop working with federal agencies that do not need them:
Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights activist and founder of the Racial Justice Network, called it "unacceptable" that US marshals still do not require police body cameras. She called on the city to stop allowing its officials to participate in federal working groups that do not require body cameras, particularly U.S. marshals task forces.
"We don't believe the lies," she said. “We don't believe in the wrong law enforcement narratives. We do not believe in the false stories that have been spread by our local media. And we're not going to get involved in a cover-up for the murder of a father, a comedian, a hip-hop artist, a son, a brother, and a friend. "
Angela Rose Myers, president of the NAACP in Minneapolis, said police had "covered up their crimes and used the BCA for them" in the past.
"Just because a video of Winston Smith's murder didn't go viral doesn't mean his life didn't matter," she added.
In general, the research on how effective bodycams are is mixed. But this is one case where it would be useful to have some footage. A law mandating body cameras for all federal officials was passed by the House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate, where attempts are being made to find bipartisan consensus on police reform.
But beyond the desire for political change, there is the raw sadness and anger many people feel about another life being taken by police officers.
Smith, father of three, was a musician named Wince Me Boi and appeared in a number of comedy videos, including one posted on Facebook just days before his death.
According to KARE 11 of Minneapolis, Smith was wanted on an arrest warrant at the time of his death for failing to be heard in May after pleading guilty for possession of a gun in November 2020, in violation of the terms of a previous conviction-related plea for serious first-degree robbery.
Social media posts released after Smith's plea deal in November 2020 suggest he was having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he would spend four years in prison.
In a video posted to Smith's Instagram account in February, he talks about his impending jail sentence.
“I'm like, four years? I would rather die. My mind is wrong. I'm like, I'm ready to die for my freedom. Because I feel like they are not treating me fairly. I feel like it was a gun somewhere around me. And they want me to do it for four years. I didn't have the gun. I didn't shoot anyone. I didn't kill anyone, ”said Smith.
But Smith seemed to have more to his mind than just his personal legal plight. In other social media videos, he urged Black Lives Matter protesters to be more confrontational with the police, saying things like "get ready for war".
Of course, the fact that Smith said incendiary devices in videos does not mean that the officers were authorized to shoot him. And so far the only evidence that it was necessary to kill him has been press releases that are difficult to accept at face value given the misleading nature of past statements.
Minneapolis is grappling with big policing issues
The broader context for the shooting of Winston Smith is a recent string of murders of black men by Minneapolis police, such as Jamar Clark and Philando Castile – and more recently Floyd, Dolal Idd and Daunte Wright.
In each of these cases, videos at least shed light on what happened, and the Castile, Floyd and Wright cases resulted in criminal charges against the officers involved. (While Chauvin was convicted of murder for the murder of Floyd, the officer who shot and killed Castile was acquitted of manslaughter, and the officer who killed Wright is charged with second degree manslaughter.) In Smith's case, people still stay guess.
Protesters took to the streets in the Uptown area on Monday evening to both protest against Smith's death and to recognize Knajdek's life.
With lots of signs from Winston Smith and Deona Marie, the crowd of about a thousand marched through the neighborhoods of Uptown Minneapolis before returning to Lake / Girard for a candlelight vigil, where Deona Marie was killed last night by a man who drove in protesters . pic.twitter.com/x4RMp0ylTT
– daviss (@daviss) June 15, 2021
Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said resources are being used by law enforcement agencies outside of Minneapolis to try to keep the peace in Uptown. While some Minneapolis activists have called for less police force, Frey has advocated hiring new officials, arguing that doing so will help reduce violent crime in the city. There have been more than 30 murders in Minneapolis this year, as MPR News notes, and Frey – as well as some residents – believes more police will reduce the number of killings.
It remains to be seen whether this will be the case and whether more police will mean no more deaths as with Knajdek. It is also the subject of heated debate and shapes the race for mayors of the city, with some candidates calling for a major rethink of policing and others calling for more limited changes. Voters will also have a say in an election initiative about how public safety should look beyond the mayor's race – if that succeeds, the Minneapolis police force will be dismantled and replaced with a division likely to include traditional police force alongside the public works health authorities that can respond to emergencies.
Over the next few months, voters will have to answer these questions. In the short term, however, more police officers come to the site of Smith's death. And for many protesters, more police at this point can be seen as a provocation rather than a solution.