On July 30, Hennepin County Attorney and former Democratic State Senator Mike Freeman announced that there would be no criminal charges pursued against Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt for gunning down Thurman Blevins, a 31-year-old Black man from northern Minneapolis on the evening of June 23.
Freeman’s decision immediately prompted rage and protest from Blevins’ family and supporting activists, who shut down his press conference when the tendency of his remarks became clear. The next day, an emergency demonstration was carried out in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, led by the group Justice for Thurman Blevins Jr. in collaboration with Black Lives Matter and Justice 4 Jamar.
The demonstrators denounced Freeman and made it clear the community, and particularly Blevins’s extended family, do not tolerate the Hennepin County Attorney’s excuse-making for murderous killer cops. They pointed out that Mike Freeman has only ever pursued criminal charges against one single cop, despite Minneapolis being the site of several high-profile cop killings of Black citizens during his tenure. The community also rebuked mayor Jacob Frey and Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Bob Kroll. Mayor Frey is in the habit of sentimental “there, there” condescension towards the community in lieu of holding cops accountable, and Lieutenant Kroll has a reputation for particularly vile commentary. Kroll has said that Kelly and Schmidt should be given medals for gunning down Blevins, whom he described using the term “fair game.”
The local corporate media has mostly been acting as mouthpieces for the Minneapolis Police Department in these matters, or else surpassing them in racist scapegoating of Black men like Blevins. For instance, the local TV news channel KSTP seemed incapable of mentioning this case without bringing up Blevins’ felony criminal record, as though it had anything to do with the events on June 23. The actual content of these felonies is not usually discussed – they include “assaulting” (kicking at and spitting on) a police officer, fleeing a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Such “crimes” are simply evidence of legal bullying by the city – as a Black man from a working-class neighborhood, Blevins had a criminal record because his life was criminalized by default, as explained by Blevins’s family and supporters at the demonstration. To live in northern Minneapolis as a Black person is to be subject to routine police harassment; the police have the character of an occupying army. Criminal records such as Blevins’s are simply the paper trail constructed to justify cop impunity.
The MPD, the corporate media, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office all emphasize that Blevins was, in fact, armed the night that he was killed, as corroborated by (supposedly) unedited body camera footage. In his statement, Freeman concluded that he couldn’t prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Kelly and Schmidt didn’t have reason to fear for their lives at the time that they gunned Blevins down. The body-camera footage allegedly shows that he might possibly have been in the act of turning around to shoot at his pursuers at the time that the fatal shots were fired, and that made him, in Bob Kroll’s words, “fair game.”
Besides standing the role of a prosecutor on its head, this kind of argument also exposes Freeman’s fundamental commitment to the total impunity of the police. While Blevins may or may not have decided that his only chance of survival at that point was to defend himself with deadly violence, it is unquestionably true, as the community firmly asserted, that Kelly and Schmidt are solely responsible for creating the situation in which a man’s life ended up being taken. The body camera footage shows this clearly: the very second Kelly and Schmidt saw Blevins’s gun, they leapt out of the car, guns drawn and yelled: “Put your f—–g hands up!”
An anonymous 911 caller had claimed that someone matching Blevins’s description had been firing a pistol recklessly at nothing, but no such behavior was in evidence when Kelly and Schmidt found Blevins sitting calmly on the sidewalk with his girlfriend and their child. Kelly and Schmidt initiated their arrest of Blevins in a manner almost guaranteed to produce panic, and Blevins fled, as nearly anyone else would do when startled by two armed men, leaping out of a car, brandishing weapons, and screaming. The body-camera footage shows two predators, running down their chosen prey. Commentary from the cops includes the line “I will f—–g shoot you!” What did Blevins say in response? “Please don’t shoot me! Leave me alone!”
These words became rallying cries for the demonstration. Kelly’s and Schmidt’s decision to confront Blevins in the most threatening manner possible is subjected to no scrutiny whatsoever by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, despite being the cause of Blevins’s panic and possible, potential, alleged decision to turn around and fire back. Any discussion of whether Kelly and Schmidt feared for their lives is appalling in its blatant disregard for their responsibility for the situation. Kelly and Schmidt had no reason to fear for their lives until after they gave Blevins ample reason to fear for his. According to the racist legal system, Kelly’s and Schmidt’s “fear” justified them gunning Blevins down, but no allowance whatsoever was made for Blevins’s fear, his right to self-defense not respected.
As Lenin explained in 1917, the state is the organ of class dictatorship. It is the apparatus of violence that the exploiters use to maintain the conditions of exploitation and super-exploitation. On June 23, Kelly and Schmidt embodied the state to Thurman Blevins, and his experience shows precisely what phrases like “innocent until proven guilty” or “the right to a fair trial” really mean to the masses of working and oppressed people under capitalism. The Black people of northern Minneapolis see the MPD as an occupying enemy army because that is exactly what it is. The kind of arbitrary violence and total impunity that took the life of Blevins on June 23 cannot be rooted out forever unless the state of the exploiters is completely smashed and replaced with a state of workers and oppressed people. This is the project of revolutionary socialism.