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Racist on trial for shooting Justice4Jamar protesters in Minneapolis

By Jess Sundin

Night of the shooting, the men shouted “Race war!” and “Trump 2016!”

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The courtroom is expected to be packed for the final days of the trial of Allen “Lance” Scarsella, the white supremacist who shot five Black men at last year’s North Minneapolis protest to demand #Justice4Jamar. The trial started going into its fourth week today, Jan. 30.

In November 2015, Scarsella and three other men came to the site of the protests, the Fourth Precinct police station, with their faces covered. Protesters were on high alert, having seen video of a pair of masked, armed racists – Scarsella and Julio Suarez – who came to the protests just a few days earlier. When the group arrived on Nov. 23, they were quickly approached by a few protesters who asked them to remove their masks. After they refused, the group was escorted out of the protest area.

About a block from the precinct, just after protesters turned to leave them behind, Scarsella turned on them, firing eight shots into the men nearest him, seriously injuring five. “Protesters were absolutely right to remove these dangerous racists from the crowd. If they hadn’t, it’s likely more people would’ve been hurt,” said Loretta Van Pelt of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar. VanPelt and others have been attending the trial.

Many were angry at the charges, which did not include hate crimes or attempted murder, despite video evidence that these racists intended to do harm. Nathan Gustavsson, the man next to Scarsella when he fired, tried to convince the jury that the men were only went to the protest to “sit around the fire, listen to music and talk to people.” When pressed, he admitted to countless racist exchanges between the men. Gustavsson had bragged that he had “a big plan to stir shit up and get [the protesters] to disperse.”

Community members were also frustrated by the jury selection process, which resulted in a jury made up of nine white men, only two men of color and a few women. Despite the fact that African Americans make up 13% of the county population, and despite all of Scarsella’s victims being Black, there is not one African American on this jury.

After the shooting, Scarsella’s first call was to a high school friend-turned cop, Brett Levin. Levin testified that he had exchanged racist text messages with the shooter, which he described as mere “locker room talk.” After his appearance in court last week, he resigned from his current post with the Burnsville Police Department. The Minneapolis NAACP denounced the department for accepting the resignation, saying there should have been disciplinary action to ensure “racist officers … not be able to move from department to department; they must be barred from serving altogether.”

Cameron Clark, one of the victims shot by Scarsella, said that allowing Levin to resign allows him to be rehired by another department willing to turn a blind eye to his racist views. “If a Black man is charged with a felony conviction, he can’t get a decent job but white cops who use their power to oppress can remain in uniform. There are white supremacists who have been given a badge and a gun. Just look at the connection in this case.”

To bolster his claim of self-defense, Scarsella’s defense team has tried to put protesters on trial. Precinct surveillance videos show hundreds of angry people, many of them Black, demanding justice for Jamar Clark, who was killed by Minneapolis police. Gustavsson claims he feared for his life, and Scarsella is expected to say the same when he continues his testimony Monday. According to VanPelt, “With an almost all-white jury, who’ve heard so many cops justify the murder of unarmed Black men by saying they feared for their lives, we are worried that Scarsella will get away with what he did that night.”

Scarsella, Suarez and Gustavsson, along with Daniel Macey and Joseph Backman all came to the precinct to disrupt the protest for Jamar Clark. The night of the shooting, the men shouted “Race war!” and “Trump 2016!” They exemplify the very climate created by now-President Donald Trump – “locker room talk” is much more dangers than talk, when it fuels and emboldens this kind of violence.

All eyes will be on Scarsella, as he continues his testimony Jan. 30. The trial is expected to conclude this week, as the community braces itself for the chance that once again the system may fail to deliver justice.

#MinneapolisMN #PeoplesStruggles #PoliceBrutality #RacismInTheCriminalJusticeSystem #Antiracism