On the evening of March 18, Stephon Clark was shot eight times by Sacramento police officers. According to The Washington Post, he was shot in the neck, back and thigh. The bullets pierced his lungs and broke a number of the 22-year-old’s bones. The two officers shot at Clark 20 times. About three to 10 minutes after the attack, Clark died.
Officers were responding to a vandalism complaint in Clark’s Sacramento neighborhood when they found him in the backyard of his grandmother’s house where he lived. According to The New York Times, in their initial statement, the officers claimed Clark came toward them while holding what they believed to be a firearm. However, fearing the police were trying to cover up misconduct by their officers, the Clark family had their own autopsy conducted. The family’s lawyer stated that according to the autopsy reports, Clark could not have been moving toward the officers when he was shot, contradicting the officers’ narratives. Sacramento Police didn’t comment.
The shooting was recorded by the officers’ body cameras and showed the men shouting “We need to know if you’re O.K.” just after the gunfire ended, and, “We need to get you medics, but we can’t go over to get you help unless we know you don’t have a weapon.”
Once more officers arrived, the two shooting officers muted the audio on their body cameras as they discussed the events that transpired. It is also suspected the officers waited too long after the attack to call for medical assistance.
Protesters have since taken to the streets of Sacramento and Sacramento City Hall. Many are calling for the two officers to be fired. Protesters have said this incident, in a city that is mainly black and Latino, “is a sign of a police force that treats black residents with disdain and unfairly targets their neighborhoods.”
Clark’s death was not unique. The brutal murder of black men at the hands of police officers is something we have seen repeatedly, especially over the past several years. The frequency and even sheer existence of these cases is tragic. What’s more, officers are rarely held accountable for their actions, and forces across the country do not appear to be taking these types of events seriously. If they did, they wouldn’t frequent the headlines of every major news outlet every few weeks.
Although Sacramento Police did adjust their body camera policy to prohibit muting of the recording, the two officers responsible for Clark’s death have yet to be fired. This not only degrades the entire police force but sets a precedent for officers across the country that brutality is not something to be taken seriously.
As a result, Americans have lost trust in our police forces. The neighbor who originally called in the vandalism complaint in Clark’s neighborhood told PBS she regrets making the call and said it makes her never want to call 911 again.
We must make clear that we respect officers and are thankful for the work they do. But all people need to be able to trust our officers, not just a percentage. We need to be able to believe they will not shoot without more justification than “we thought he had a weapon and seemed threatening.”
It’s time police forces take action against officers who can’t control their desire to shoot. Forces that have had these incidents need to set an example for other forces across the country.
How many more black men need to lose their lives before police officers start protecting all of us?