Let’s face it, being a policeman is a dangerous and often thankless job.
But that of course does not excuse reckless or unprofessional behavior.
On the one hand, we castigate a policeman who would hang back while people are being killed (the recent Florida high school massacre) and on the other hand laud the heroic action of a policeman who shoots and kills an armed attacker (the recent school shooting in Maryland).
But there are riots in Sacramento after officers shot and killed a suspect, purportedly fearing for their own lives and deciding to shoot first and ask questions later, perhaps fearing that if they didn’t take action first they wouldn’t be around to ask the questions.
While I certainly don’t know all the facts and will never know really because I was not there I do have a lot of opinions about the killing of Stephon Clark, a young black man in Sacramento, at the hands of police. The incident occurred on March 18, 2018.
And I wrote that last paragraph a day or so ago but realized I did not know enough to really post anything on this. And maybe I still don’t.
But the most important point is that there just must be an alternative or option away from deadly force. And all my other thoughts, based on a lifetime of experience among the races, are almost beside the point.
It appears that the young man was unarmed. All he had was a cell phone. But in the dark of night, perhaps, someone thought he had a gun and was pointing it at officers. And he had been running away from officers who were pursuing him as a suspect in car break-ins that had just been occurring, it was reported (I’m not even sure on that). The officers were aided in the search by a police helicopter.
But someone, a voice (you can hear on the body cam tapes), says “gun..” and then 20 — yeah 20, shots were fired. Mr. Clark died as a result. No gun was found.
While the official autopsy has not been released, the family of the slain man had their own private autopsy done and its results have been released. According to it, of the 20 shots fired, eight hit the victim, the first at least to the front of his body but most in the back. The theory put forward is that the initial shot or shots spun the victim around.
But 20 shots? It sure seems like overdoing it to me. And if they could not see whether he had a gun or not, how could they possibly justify the shots? All those shots.
So it was a mistake. But why do these “mistakes” happen disproportionately to young black men? That is the news we get.
(I understand one of the officers who confronted Clark was black. And the Sacramento police chief is identified as black.)
Well I could think of all kinds of reasons for the mistake or the jumping to conclusions, but I don’t know.
What I do know is that there needs to be an alternative to shoot first and ask questions later.
In this case there is the troubling situation in which for some reason officers at some point turned off the audio on the body cameras. I think this was after they realized a terrible mistake was made.
Also, so someone thinks they see a gun. Why couldn’t the officers take a defensive position and yell “drop the gun”? I know, if the man really had a gun he might just shoot before anyone could do anything.
And do we want Barney Fife-like officers who would cower in the face of armed danger?
A former Sacramento County sheriff has a talk show on radio. While he admitted it was a tragedy he felt it should be pointed out that Mr. Clark had a rap sheet that included two armed robberies and other crimes, while being careful to also note that still that does not justify his killing.
(I am fairly sure the officers had no idea who they were confronting.)
I personally have heard reports on this story on the radio and on television (via my computer) and read them on the print media (via computer of course) and do not feel I have all the facts. Even the police video is not clear. I mean I think the assumption is that the victim had been breaking into cars and may have tried to break a window of a house. He was eventually shot in the backyard of what was described has his grandparents’ home (again the police apparently did not know his connection with the place). And one report said something about his grandmother had told family members to knock on the back window if they did not have a key. All very confusing.
But the important thing here remains the fact that there is a continuing problem of what appear to be unjustified police shootings and they seem to fall disproportionately on black people, and more precisely on young black men, although I also heard statistics to suggest that something like 44 percent of police shootings nationwide are in error and all races are victims.
I was disappointed with a PBS Newshour report on the incident I watched. They seemed to ignore the victim’s criminal background and the black news correspondent used a leading question when she asked the black family lawyer of the victim what he thought of “white people” who say Stephon Clark should have complied with police orders to give himself up.
(The form the question took seemed to imply white people show their bias when they ask a logical and reasonable question. Asking that question does not automatically mean or even suggest one is racist or bigoted.)
While not complying with police orders does not justify a killing in and of itself — it was part of the situation that cannot be left out in the explanation of what happened. If you do leave it out, then you must not want all the facts that could lead to a solution of the problem.
Law-abiding citizens, no matter their race, know it is never a good idea not to comply with police orders. And I think non-law abiding citizens know this too most of the time — but they are risk takers.
The risk is not worth it.
But let’s find an alternative to deadly force to be used where it can be used.