Stephon Clark: When Will Black Lives Matter?
How many times do we have to scream that black lives matter before the world begins to listen? It is way too often that I see the news of another black man having been shot dead at the hands of white police officers in America and quite frankly, I am sick of it. What’s even worse is that these merciless killings cause uproar for a while in their aftermath, but then it goes and happens again and so we continue in this perpetual cycle of fear and judgement, with what seems to be no way out.
Just last month on 18th March 2018, a 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot at twenty times by two police officers in Sacramento, California resulting in his callous death and another statistic added to the books. It’s no surprise really, as black men between the ages of 15-34 are nine times more likely to be killed by law enforcement in the USA than anyone else, but the question is why does this keep happening?
On the night of Stephon’s death, the police were said to be responding to reports made of someone vandalising cars in the area. They came across Stephon who began to run and then shot him dead in his own grandmother’s backyard after wrongly assuming that he was carrying a gun. The video circulating on social media of the events is brutal; the police officers open fire releasing their entire rounds on this man who has his back turned towards them – a man who is up until this point, not guilty of any crime. He was running, yes, but in a country where as a young black man you are more likely than anyone else to be killed by the police, who can blame him? Beside his lifeless body, an iPhone was found – not a gun. And so, once again, another black life was taken in vain.
Why shoot to kill?
My biggest question at this point is, why shoot to kill? In the words of his grandmother Sequita Thompson, “shoot him in the arm, shoot him in the leg” – there was absolutely no justifiable reason to shoot to kill him (and when you shoot at someone twenty times, there is no possible way on earth that you are not shooting to kill), whether armed or not. They could have given him a commanding order, tried to disarm him or shot him to cause injury; instead their decision in that moment to kill a young man with his whole life ahead not only ended Stephon’s life but has forever impacted the lives of his family and friends, and especially his two very young sons who now have to grow up without their father. It also reinforces the ideology that in America, in the eyes of the state, black lives really don’t matter.
Killing of his Character
What really gets to me is that when a black man is killed by police, it is all too often that the killing process continues after his physical death in the form of the murder of his character by politicians and the press – in a way to kind of justify the despicable act that has taken place.
They will dehumanise him; take whatever tiny snippets of his life that fit the typical black criminal stereotype that they can and portray his whole life to have been lived in such a way. They will mutilate his demeanour, remove his thoughts, his hopes, his dreams – strip away anything that makes him human – and turn him into a criminal that deserved such an ending, even having people believe that his death was a good thing; that society is better off without people like him. They did this to Trayvon Martin, they did this to Michael Brown, they did this to Philando Castile and now they are doing it to Stephon Clark – all in the pretence of justifying twenty shots being fired at an unarmed black father-of-two holding a mobile phone and letting him bleed to death in his grandmothers back garden.
This is one of the main reasons why nothing ever changes. Because if you completely destroy the victims’ character you can make people think that maybe he deserved it. Maybe he was asking for it. Maybe he’s not worth fighting for. Because if you completely destroy his character, you can dehumanise him and therefore make society believe that he was the one at fault and not the system in which these inhumane, despicable acts are allowed to happen. Anything to turn the finger away from pointing at the one who is really to blame and anything to allow these murders to continue to happen.
It’s quite clear that policing methods in America are completely defective. There is massive distrust between the police and the communities being policed, not forgetting the vicious cycles of poverty, lack of opportunity and crime in underprivileged black communities. But the law will protect the two murderous police officers in this case as they will be able to claim that their act was justified, as they believed he was carrying a gun – and nothing else will matter. And so young black men will continue to be murdered and nothing will change.
I believe the people could change that and the whole system even, if so many weren’t so indifferent about murders like these. I feel like not only America, but the whole world is becoming so desensitised to news like this, that after the hashtags and marches have been done, everything swiftly returns back to normal – until the next time.
We as a people, we as humanity, must and have to realise that no murder can ever be justified. That no life is more precious than another. That the black man murdered by the law deserves the same kind of respect from the media and politicians that is afforded to the white terrorist. That the answers to solve all of the world’s problems lie within us all – individually and collectively.
I know this is something that I repeat and often at that, but I honestly and whole-heartedly believe that the truth that we must all wake up to is the realisation that underneath everything that divides us, we are all exactly the same. We are all HUMAN. We must accept, honour and respect one another despite our outer differences – despite the colour of our skin, our religious beliefs or the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that we have done in this world. Once we truly start to believe this on an individual level, it can extend out further beyond just ourselves and we can begin to make real change in the world.
When we begin to understand that the world and everything in it is under the responsibility of us all, maybe one day we will live in a world where hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter won’t even need to exist and all of these black murders won’t have been in vain – because we will all know that all lives matter, regardless, and we will all do whatever we can to keep it that way.
(First written for and published in Defi Media Groups ‘News on Sunday’, Mauritius.)