Stephon Clark was executed.
Last week, 20 shots rang out in a Sacramento neighborhood fired from the guns of officers of the Sacramento police department who now claim they feared for their lives. The bullets of those guns were aimed at Stephon Clark: A father, brother, son and grandson whose apparent crime was fitting the description, in his own backyard.
One of those bullets alone would have killed Stephon, but eight bullets ended up piercing his flesh. An independent autopsy would later reveal, six of the eight bullets hit Stephon in the back. In the aftermath of the one sided shootout, Sacramento police officers waited six minutes for back up before giving Stephon medical attention. By then it was too late. Stephon was dead. His lifeless body laid on the ground with his hands in police cuffs.
How officers could have feared for their lives while Clark’s back was turned I will never know. What I do know however is this: Stephon Clark was executed and his murder reminds us we live in a country where we can be legally killed at any moment for any reason and there is no real system in place to help or protect us.
Today many people are asking: What is it about black bodies that evokes fear? Why is it acceptable to kill us without consequence? Why are we not innocent until proven guilty? Why does this only happen to us?
Again, to most of these questions I do not have the answer, but what I do know is while it may seem like this only happens to black people; it doesn’t. A lot of white people get killed by the police, too. But the victims of police violence are disproportionately black, and black people killed by police are more likely to have been unarmed than white people.
Data from the Washington Post’s police shootings database illustrates this point for us very clearly: Black Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet last year 30 percent of the unarmed people shot and killed by police were black.
That disparity is a problem as are the sheer numbers of victims.
Every now and then national media will catch wind of an unarmed young black man, woman, boy or girl whose life is unexpectedly cut short during an encounter with the police. Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell. In each of these instances, unarmed black people were shot and killed and we were told some version of, “police officers feared for their lives.” This fear, robbed Philando, Tamir, Terence, Walter, Jonathan and now Stephon of justice, of their due process and their lives.
Why did Stephon Clark have to die, but Nicolas Cruz who massacred 17 people at a high school in Parkland Florida, was taken into custody alive?
Why did Stephon Clark have to die, but Dylan Roof, who walked into a church in South Carolina and murdered 9 people, including the pastor, was captured alive, then escorted to jail and served food from a nearby Burger King.
Why did Stephon Clark have to die? The answer is he didn’t.
Even if Stephon Clark had a criminal record, had marijuana or other drugs on his person, or refused to heed the words the officers shouted at him, he deserved to live. He was not a threat. He executed no one and in the moments before police officers in Sacramento ended his life, he had not committed a violent crime.
Stephon Clark was unarmed. He was a black man in America who found himself on the receiving end of bullets because he had the temerity to exist. His children buried him last week for no reason. There is no way to justify his death.
We know Stephon Clark was executed. What are we going to do about it?