There was a 911 call in Sacramento the night of March 18th, about a guy running through the neighborhood breaking car windows. A police helicopter tracked a suspect to a backyard, where police on foot patrol converged on him. Two officers shouted at the young black suspect to “show us your hands!”. The man, Stephon Clark, after circling to the back of what turned out to be the house he lived in, took a step toward them, still a fair distance away. The police then fired, twenty shots, killing him, as the audio on the police body cameras both suddenly went mute. This can all be seen (and heard) in the video footage the policemen’s body cameras recorded.
The audio on their body cams goes silent for a couple of minutes, and then, five minutes after their hail of twenty bullets, they are back on line, still calling for the prone, unmoving Stephon Clark to show them his hands. They continue to demand compliance from his dead body before they will send in medical backup. Clark was pronounced dead at the scene, his grandmother’s back yard, when medics eventually attended to him.
This kind of sudden, senseless, violent death happens with hideous regularity in our great, violent, gun-toting nation, in virtually every region of our country. These police killings happen disproportionately to unarmed black men of a certain age. It is not an isolated atrocious mistake that happens a few times a year, it happens way too frequently in America. This legally sanctioned murder is not a problem isolated in racist enclaves, it is a nationwide horror, like mass shootings, thousands of annual military veteran suicides (thank you for your service), 67,000 dead from opioids in the last annual count.
Unarmed young black men are killed by law enforcement in every corner of our exceptional nation. It is virtually always, somehow, ruled justifiable homicide, terrible, regrettable, but understandable shit that just happens in a dangerous profession where police are justified to be scared shitless in a backyard during a helicopter manhunt for a guy smashing car windows.
Some smart-ass reporter raised the question of this shooting of an unarmed man (the police video shows only a cell phone next to his dead body) to the President’s press secretary, daughter of a religious, right-wing former presidential candidate. She answered the reporter with a hint of the smugness of her kind. In fairness to her, she has an unenviable job, a job it is almost impossible to do with grace, a job affording a hundred opportunities a day to be quoted like this:
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Certainly a terrible incident, this is something that is a local matter, and it’s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities at this point.”
“States’ rights”, of course, the sovereignty of the local community, is always invoked by status quo types whenever the question of who should deal with the sticky problem of unruly local blacks comes up, or even ruly ones who are sometimes caught in an admittedly unfortunate situation that results in their violent deaths. Back in the day, when the state and local governments of the former Confederacy were run by KKK members and sympathizers, (many of them very fine people, very fine people… our current president reminds us) it was frequently stated that, but for outside agitators, paid rabble rousers, professional trouble makers, Commies, Jews, and other unsavory, miscegenating social activist types, there had never been any damned trouble in the local communities between whites and blacks, we all got along great, as long as the niggers knew their place.
I know, of course, that as a reasonable white person I’m supposed to put “niggers” in quotation marks. It is worse today to write the word, just as it is pronounced, than to tell a national audience that the killing of a person we will now all give the respect of calling an “n-word”, is a local matter. Nothing to see here. People like this young man Stephon Clark, who disobeyed cops after quite possibly smashing car windows, would at one time have been taken down a dark road, mutilated and hung from a tree. Until very recently there was no law against local law enforcement keeping the peace any way it saw fit. If it came to it, and the matter came to a court of law, it was up to a jury of peers in the local community to decide if the dead black person had been way out of fucking line. In 2018, just like in the good old mythical days when this country was great for proud racists of all stripes, we leave it up to local authorities to decide what process is due, what justice is and where the lines are that separate ordinary police practices from murder.
A local matter, nothing to see here, certainly no bigger picture, no pattern, no practice. And it irks me out of proportion to the remark, because Sarah just said, what sounded to me like ‘uh, you know, Manifest Destiny,’ or “I know you are, but what am I?’ even if what she may have actually meant was no more than that at the present time this terrible tragedy is a local Sacramento investigation. Thank God no policeman got hurt in the altercation between a man suspected of raging vandalism and those trained to protect and serve.
Here’s where it chafes a bit more. We leave this piece of a gigantic national horror story to the local authorities, even as those local authorities are tasked by this administration with assisting the feds in a nationwide hunt for deportable Mexican “rapists” and killers and those undocumented residents who are not allowed to apply for a driver’s license in many states, who we can then, in many states, stop at traffic checkpoints, detain and legally deport, for the serious crime of not having a valid driver’s license. Same goes for purveyors and users of the evil weed, no quarter for you nationwide, and to hell with your “state’s rights” for those immoral malefactors who live in immoral states who vote that it’s just fine for people to smoke that awful drug.
In more enlightened times the Department of Justice might take on these police shooting cases as a kind of nationwide class action, attempt to craft a national solution to this hideous practice once and for all. Of course, presently, the DOJ is headed by a man who was deemed too racist to be confirmed as a federal judge (imagine how racist you have to be not to slide under that bar…), a man who works for a beleaguered administration that has many more serious problems than probing why the occasional young black man, usually unarmed, continues to be shot to death by cops across every part of our once great nation, often for very minor infractions, or no infractions.
A more pressing problem, to our nation’s top law enforcement official, is to root out those damn trouble-making illegal foreigners who are the cause of every ill that afflicts this great nation and to finally stamp out the Devil’s weed that so many states now flout federal law by allowing their citizens to use, some even allowing its use “recreationally”. If you read a history of this country, you might swear you stepped through a warp in the fabric of time, are right at the end of Prohibition, when Herbert Hoover doubled down on deportations, protective tariffs and fighting a lost war of dubious morality, a war against intoxicating spirits, in the name of morality.
Makes me wanna holler. I salute the young people who are not taking this shit lying down. You have every goddamned right not to be shot to death when you are going about your business, even if you’re out of control and your business is trouble. Even if you shoved a store owner and stole a box of cigars, smashed a car window, called the armed vigilante who stopped you on the street a provocative name, sold illegal cigarettes, informed the cop who pulled you over that you had a legally registered gun in the car, the death penalty, without a trial of any kind, except a two second one conducted by an adrenalized man with a gun, is a bit severe for most suspected crimes. I think even self-righteous Sarah Huckabee Sanders might agree to that, privately, of course.