Last week Stephon Clark was gunned down in his back yard. Two police officers fired 20 bullets at him in the dark because they “feared for their lives”. Two trained law enforcement professionals fired TWENTY bullets into an unarmed man’s body and then left him to bleed out in the yard while they questioned his family members inside. He wasn’t even a real suspect for anything, they were just looking for someone who had been breaking into cars on the street.
Stephon’s murder is the latest in a line of atrocious attacks of police brutality committed by Sacramento law enforcement in the past few years, all on black men and women. The way these deaths played out mirror the wave of absolutely unnecessary displays of violence that has been portrayed by law enforcement against people of color in recent (and not so recent times).
In Sacramento alone over the past couple of years 9 black men have been killed by local law enforcement:
- Adriene Ludd 2015, shot by deputies although he himself had a non-functional gun.
- Dazion Flenaugh, 2016, a mentally ill homeless man who allegedly had knives on him shot 7 times by three police officers.
- Joseph Mann, 2016, also homeless and mentally ill. Two police officers fired 18 bullets at Mann, after several attempts to try and run him over first.
- Jason King, 2016, shot by CHP during a possible mental breakdown.
- Lorenzo Cruz, 2017, shot by three officers who didn’t turn their body cameras on until after the shooting occurred.
- Desmond Phillips, 2017, killed by 10 of the 16 rounds fired at him by Chico PD in his home.
- Ryan Ellis, 2017, allegedly managed to smash the window out of a patrol car (while cuffed) and threw himself out of the window (while cuffed), as the car was moving and died from his injuries.
- Mikel McIntyre, 2017, shot during a mental breakdown a few hours after officers had been called to his home by his family and deemed him not to be a threat to himself or anyone else.
- And now Stephon Clark, shot 20 times in his backyard because he was holding his cellphone.
In addition to the deaths listed above there have been so many incidents of police brutality that (luckily) did not result in death in this city. For example, in 2017 alone:
- Zityrua Abraham was thrown to the ground on her 6 month pregnant belly by officers who weren’t even at the right house. They tried to cover up the incident but when the body camera videos were finally released you see how forcefully the officer yanked her arm and pulled her away.
- Nandi Cain Jr was slammed to the ground and punched over 18 times for allegedly jaywalking.
- Patricia Hill suffered a broken eye socket and other injuries when she taken to jail.
Sacramento may be growing fast, but it’s still a small city. With a city population of just under 500,000 people (around 2 million if you count the entire metro area), the amount of law enforcement-related deaths is seriously proportionately high. And despite the “most diverse city” label, Sacramento is predominantly white, which makes the amount of deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement ridiculously high. There is a huge problem here and it keeps getting swept under the carpet.
In addition to all of this, Sacramento may be the capital of the most progressive state in the US, California, but there have been some very significant elements of racism in institutions that seemingly go unchecked. For example, in schools, here and here and here (seriously who the hell thinks this is normal?). In the prejudicial arrests for “jaywalking” (by the way there are no sidewalks along loads of roads so if you walk along them you are technically jaywalking). In the legal Neo Nazi rallies where the police force actively work with the Nazis. And what about the rallies where people are telling you “it’s OK to be white!” and screaming about his they will deport us all (we walked through one a few weeks ago).
So what can we do? We can protest. We can research Black Lives Matter groups in our areas and see what kind of events they are having and the ones that it makes sense for us to join. We can donate our time, money, and effort to fighting against systemic racism. What we can’t do is constantly ask people what we can do to help and for an explanation on why we should be helping. Or, even worse, ignore what is happening around us.
We also can’t take police word for granted. I used to trust the police implicitly. And I know quite a few police officers I can still trust implicitly. But that general trust? No, I don’t have that anymore. Not law enforcement officers are continuously killing black and brown people at a much higher rate than white people, AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT. There is no excuse for this. We MUST hold our police department and government officials accountable. We MUST make them own up to the ingrained prejudice and racism that encloses public institutions, force them to de-root the rot, fire those who murder our black and brown friends and families, and recruit people who stand up for US.
We can’t have a March For Our Lives without talking about Black Lives Matter. We can’t uphold one and forget the other. Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be shot than white men. We can’t stand up against school shootings and forget about Trayvon Martin, a student brutally gunned down in the street for no reason apart from wearing a hoodie. If we have a March For Our Lives we have to include everyone. If we are marching for gun reform we need to march for ALL gun reform. We also can’t just hope that the kids who organized the March For Our Lives will do all of the work we should be doing – how unfair is that? WE HAVE TO STEP UP.
Sacramento PD appears to be making some changes, but it’s not enough, and it will never bring those who were shot down back again. I think THIS article explains it pretty well. WE have to keep calling and writing and calling and writing. I have been writing to CA Governor Jerry Brown and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, but Sacramento isn’t the only city where police brutality is an issue. It really only takes a few minutes to pick up the phone and make a few calls, or bang out a few emails. It’s the least we can do.
(I know that some of you may find all this talk about race “uncomfortable”. You may have been brought up to “not see color”. The main problem with both of those outlooks is that instead of eliminating racism it just ends up marginalizing those affected by it even more. If you say you “don’t see color” then subconsciously you are relieving yourself of understanding the centuries of oppression and brutality black and brown people have been subjected to. By not seeing color you are erasing them. We can’t afford NOT to talk about race).
Some books to read (as a starting point):