It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote about the 20th anniversary of Amadou Diallo’s murder at the hands of police. Here, I return to write about another dubious anniversary: the slaying of 22-year-old Stephon Clark at the hands of Sacramento police officers one year ago. Clark was unarmed, yet he was shot eight times – six in the back – by jittery cops. It’s an old, tired and infuriating story…one that has similar beats that we’ve heard so many times before it’s almost become rote.
Here’s a timeline of the events connected to the needless loss of Stephon Clark’s life:
March 18, 2018: Police officers responding to reports of a man breaking a car window fire 20 rounds at Clark, who was in the front yard of his own grandparents’ home. The officers say that they saw Clark rush them with the crowbar he must’ve been using to break the car window. But then at some point, they believed “crowbar” (that wasn’t there) was a gun. Authorities discover nothing but a cell phone on Clark’s body. The whole event sounds like Stony’s brother being killed in Set it Off and reminds us that Black men can’t carry shit short of a large stuffed teddy bear, lest it be mistaken for a gun.
March 22-23, 2018: Protesters – largely driven by Black Lives Matter – take over Sacramento, holding cell phones in the air with chants of “Don’t shoot, it’s a cell phone.” The first night of the protest, highway traffic is blocked and folks are prevented from accessing a Sacramento Kings game.
December 2018: Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, makes headlines for his vocal rebuke of his brother’s killers. Clark was jailed and placed in a mental institution shortly after his brother was killed. His tribulations spark a national conversation regarding the lingering mental effects of family members following the reckless action of police.
January 2019: Clark’s family files a civil rights lawsuit seeking more than $20 million from the city of Sacramento and the two officers – Terrence Mercadel and Jared Robinet – who shot him. The suit follows a wrongful-death claim against the city for $35 million filed back in September 2018. Early this month, a federal judge urged attorneys to settle the civil rights lawsuit.
Feb 19, 2019: Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg apologized for Clark’s death in his annual State of the City speech. He also promises to “push” for $200 million in investments in lower-income neighborhoods to prevent such tragedies in the future. It sounds like a mighty convenient political Band-Aid claim that does nothing to account for the behavior of the officers who killed Clark.
March 2, 2019: Surprising absolutely no one who follows countless similar cases, Mercadel and Robinet will not face charges; it’s determined that they “feared for their safety” when shooting a man armed to the teeth with a cell phone. Two days later, 84 demonstrators are arrested in protest of the decision. Even Steinberg publicly denounced the police department’s response to the protestors.
March 18, 2019: On the one-year anniversary of Clark’s death, there are a number of events scheduled to recognize and honor Clark, including an appearance by Rev. Al Sharpton with Clark’s family at the state capitol. As of press time, the family has not received any coins from anyone for the death of their child, and Mercadel and Robinet remain free men. The rallies and protests make for great press and social media moments, but in Sacramento – as with cities throughout the country where Black men continue to have to tread more carefully, lest their lives are extinguished by the people trained to protect them – not much has changed.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.