Stephon Clark: an individual death that did not have to happen

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Stephon Clark would be alive today if he did not commit a crime.
Stephon Clark would be alive today if he did not run from the law.
Stephon Clark would be alive today if he were white.
Stephon Clark would be alive today if cops did not shoot him eight times, six of which were to the back.

Stephon Clark, unfortunately, is just the latest of an ongoing series of deaths in which a young black man ends up dead at the hands of cops and a police department is left to explain their findings despite what appears to be clear evidence of two cops having overreacted at the least and abused their power at its worst.

What always amazes me in these deaths is how we see what we want to see and lump it as part of a growing problem and are not able to see them as individual incidents. When they get lumped together with other deaths, some of which I have found justified while others I have disagreed with, it ends up painting all cops in one light.

As a retired teacher, I do not like this. I have seen incidents where one bad teacher has made the rest of a school or district look terrible and made it difficult to show all the good others are doing. Churches have found this out as well as many other lines of work in the public eye.

Fact: Stephon Clark is still alive today if he does not commit a crime.
Fact: Stephon Clark would be alive today if he did not run from the law.
Arguable: Stephon Clark would be alive today if he were white.
Fact: Stephon Clark would be alive today if he was not shot eight times, six of which were in the back.

I have come to the conclusion there are no words I know that will change anyone’s preconceived perspective on this, or any other, police shooting of a young black male. I know this much, as a middle aged white male, I do not fear my local cops. I never have and most likely never will. I have not lived the “black experience” so it is not up to me to argue another person’s or group’s perspective. I can only try to understand it with the hope they will try to understand mine.

Here is what I have taken away from the killing of Stephon Clark. Hope. Not a lot, but some and that is a start.

At a time when sports fans like me scratch their heads over why guys like Colin Kaepernick or Eric Reid can’t find work in the NFL because they are being blackballed by owners who do not want to lose revenue from an angry fan base, I draw hope in seeing how NBA teams and the league as a whole are willing to do just the opposite.

The NBA is dominated by young black men who hold far more leverage over owners than do NFL players, most of whose rosters are also filled with black players. The face of the NBA has been that of a black man ever since Michael Jordan took hold of it from the co-faces of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. It is likely to remain the face of a black man for some time to come, whereas in the NFL, it usually resides in the body of a well-known white quarterback.

Because of this, NBA owners have to be more supportive of the same issues that upset their players that have resulted in many black NFL players protesting during the playing of the National Anthem. NBA players often wore t-shirts during warm ups that state their support for causes often ignored by corporate white America. While Tom Brady touts his unique training regime in press conferences, LeBron James is speaking out on social issues within the black community. While Bill Belichick avoids answering questions of game strategy in post-game press conferences, Gregg Popovich is lambasting our president for his failure to address matters that affect all citizens.

If you believe Stephon Clark got what he deserved, there is nothing I can say to change your mind just as there is nothing I can say to convince others that not all cops or all police departments are bad. Most young black men like Stephon Clark just want to have a fair shot at living a decent life, one where they feel they are equal in the eyes of all citizens. We still have not reached that point 50 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

It needs to be pointed out most cops are good people who do not desire to be placed in a situation where they feel they have to use lethal force. They just want to do their jobs and arrive home safely at the end of their shift.

What troubles me about the killing of someone like Stephon Clark is the blindness of people who post some of the most hateful comments imaginable while claiming blacks who play professional ball are not entitled to their freedom of speech. By automatically shutting down the other side, these folks have built in a ready-made defense mechanism that allows them to have an excuse to never sit down to try and solve what are complex problems. It’s easier to hate than it is to solve and let’s face it, Americans as a whole have become lazy. If there isn’t a quick fix to a problem just point a finger of blame and refuse to budge from your perspective. Problem solved.

The only problem is, our problems remain whether it is the killing of young black men by cops, gun violence in our schools, immigration, jobs, or whether or not our president is a great guy or a horrific nightmare.

Stephon Clark is dead and there is nothing that can be done to change that. What can be done is each of us can decide whether or not to examine deeply the causes behind deaths like his or look at them in more simplistic terms. In college, one of my History professors assigned a research paper and her instructions did not list the required length for the paper. A student pointed out her error and asked how long the paper should be. She replied, “When you can no longer answer the question why, your paper is finished.”

Some in our society prefer to take the path of least resistance and answer why with broad generalized stokes of the brush. Until we all take a deeper look and see the many layers to the paintings we have created that have led us to this juncture in our history, my fear is we will never solve social issues as much as just ride out wave after wave from a variety of societal storms.

Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of a Sacramento police video.
Stephon Clark can be seen prone on the ground and at least two police officers looking at him