Most Black boys out there born before the year 2000, me included, have had aspirations of being the good-guy crime-fighter that have historically been portrayed in television shows and on movie screens. The nightstick-wielding patrolmen “protecting” the urban neighborhoods donned seals and uniforms similar to the positive images of policemen that were projected to the Black youth. I mean, what Black kid didn’t grow up wanting to protect the city of Detroit as RoboCop? Unfortunately, the aspirations usually remain in dream form because neither city policemen nor RoboCop share the skin tone of the Black youth. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old father of 2 boys, was recently another victim of excessive force used by one race against another. The same way it is tough to envision KRS-One’s Black Cop, it is just as challenging to picture minimal media outrage, had Clark been a 22-year-old unarmed white man.
Last week, 17 seconds after the California native was warned, he was shot 20 times, including 8 shots in his back, while in his grandparent’s backyard by two policemen as a result of a vandalism report. According to the Sacramento Police Department, a report had been filed about windows being broken in the neighborhood. According to The Sacramento Bee, the officers that responded to the call and fatally shot Clark are Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet. When Clark was encountered, he was thought to be in possession of a firearm, but after being neutralized, the officers found a mere mobile phone. Deja vu?
It’s no coincidence that this grim circumstance may sound familiar. In 2016, CNN published an article highlighting a study conducted by Dr. James Buehler of Drexler University that quantified the likelihood of Black males suffering from “legal intervention” deaths. According to the study, Black males are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white males. Another statistic mentioned in the article reveals that Black men were 20% more likely than white men to be pulled over by police. In addition, according to Benjamin Crump, currently Stephon Clark’s family attorney, of the 73 police killings of unarmed victims dating back to 2015, 70 of the victims were Black males. According to Fatal Force, a tally of police killings authored by The Washing Post, Crump was slightly inaccurate: rather, 75 unarmed Black males were slain during that timespan. In a city like Sacramento were less than 15 percent of the population is Black, attaching gross disproportionality to these numbers would be a vast understatement.
Another statistic for the books is Brooklyn native Saheed Vassell, who was shot 10 times and killed by four NYPD officers, left laying in a pool of his own blood for a stretch of time before his body was carried away. Vassell, a Black man who had no more than a metal pipe in his possession, paid with his life. While these statistics may raise an eyebrow, the policies created by the systems in place can flat out raise concerns.
The Sacramento Police Department’s Website lists the procedural policies in place that officers are encouraged to follow. Nowhere on the site does it mention that officers must identify themselves as such when engaging suspects. Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, was quoted by Reuters in defense of the omission from the website’s guidelines, calling the identification procedure “impractical”.
“If you’re in a chase and everybody’s running, there isn’t a lot of talking back and forth going on,” he said.
There have even been individuals coming to officers’ defense, as well. As we all know, this is nothing new, either.
“It won’t surprise me if some departments add some other specific rule after this, but the cops are already weighed down with rules,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City (Reuters).
Are Black men in America not weighed down by the unwritten survival tactics of compliance, submission, assimilation and conformity? Tax-paying automobile operators are required to be prepared to identify themselves at all times in the event of a police traffic stop. Is it too much to ask that a police officer make himself be known when engaging a suspect? If the roles were reversed, meaning if the police were Black and the suspect were white, it’s safe to assume that identification would become law for all police departments.
Recently, it has been suggested that diversifying the country’s precincts could help put an end to this form of genocide. Actually, some studies show that it actually makes the situation worse. According to a researcher, evidence shows that police departments with a more diverse staff had an increased likelihood of shooting unarmed people.
The prospect of body cameras reducing fatalities hasn’t quite yielded the desired results, at this point in time. If police departments develop a bad habit of muting body cameras, which was the case in the Clark killing, the body cameras could assist in causing further confusion. When a man is left bleeding to death due to deadly police force for over an hour, the man’s family deserves greater clarity than a muted body camera.
This is the way the system operates: in favor of one and at the expense of the other. Within a week of Clark’s murder, the United States Criminal Justice System ruled that none of the officers involved in the Alton Sterling murder will be charged. What’s more, the policemen involved in Eric Garner’s murder are next to be ruled on, with a similar decision to follow, should we let history guide us. There are too many instances where the Justice System fails the victims, and we were reminded of that this week.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has mimicked the system’s configuration. White victims of injustice garner loads of outrage, while Black victims of injustice are simply perceived as playing the race card. It’s hard to imagine a Black police officer being excused for failing to identify before wrongfully killing a white man in his backyard. Just as hard as a Black boy in bed dreaming about being a police officer.