The shooting death of Stephon Clark has renewed the discussion of police tactics in our country. Clark was shot by police officers who were responding to a call about burglaries in the neighborhood. Now, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the actions of the two officers, many are calling Clark’s killing unjustified.
The media portrayals of the incident have been widely varied. That has moved others to provide analysis of the responding officers’ actions. One of those is known on social media as “Deputy Matt.” Matt is a sheriff’s deputy with more than twenty years of service.
Much of what Deputy Matt is responding to in his video below can be seen in this report from the LA Times. The times doesn’t provide the complete picture of what happened in the moments before the shooting took place, but Matt does.
Clark was breaking into vehicles and at least one home. Calls came in about the disturbances, and the police responded. The suspect wasn’t easy to find, so a helicopter unit was called in. Using thermal imagery, the helicopter actually spotted Clark in the act.
It would be useful to point out that thermal imaging doesn’t show race. All humans look similar, something the radio voice from the helicopter notes when the officers on the ground ask for a description of the suspect.
When the officers on the ground are directed to his position, Clark refuses to comply with their verbal commands.
At one point (blurry in the still image above) the officers see him raise his hands into what looks like a shooting stance. After, Clark moves toward the officer. This isn’t a slight movement; he moves more than 10 feet in their direction. At that point, the officers fired.
Here’s how the Times characterizes Clark: “He was the father of two boys, ages 1 and 3.” They then cited Clark’s friends who described him as “fun-loving, devoted to his family. He loved football, video games, shoes and was trying to turn his life around.”
“He would never want to leave his kids. He always wanted to make sure his kids were good,” Clark’s children’s mother, Salena Manni, told reporters.
Clark did have a criminal record, something the Times notes: “Clark had a criminal history, four cases in four years that included charges of robbery, pimping, and domestic abuse.”
That, though, was not known to the responding officers. “Community leaders were adamant that Clark’s criminal record was immaterial to how he died,” the Times writes, “and said the officers who killed him are the ones who ought to be scrutinized.”
“What matters is he was a father of two, he had his family, he was an unarmed black man that was going to his grandparent’s house, and got assassinated,” said Berry Accius, a black community leader. “Nothing else matters at that point. The fact is that black people are criminalized when anything happens. It already gives sympathy to the police and it criminalizes the victim and it makes the victim look like they’re the predator.”
Yet Clark was caught, on video, committing felonies. He had been breaking into cars, and threw a concrete block through a glass door of a neighbor’s house. He was jumping fences in an attempt to evade police. These are not subjective statements, but facts that can be seen on the video.
Betty Williams, President of the NAACP Sacramento chapter, believes this is a cultural issue. When addressing his criminal background, Williams said, “That pisses me off every time I hear it,” Williams said. “He was a young man, a father of two, who is dead. The fact of his criminal background is not the point.”
“If you understood most of the culture of African Americans in the city, when police officers get near us, there’s a nervousness,” she added. “I think understanding our culture and our young men being traumatized so much, their first reaction is not the first reaction of a white male.”
Oddly, these voices ignore the actions of Clark on the night in question. Clark was not breaking into cars because of “nervousness.”
The interpretation from Deputy Matt answers these, and many other questions. He goes to great pains to dismantle the argument that the shooting was racially motivated, and talks through the thought process of an officer who has responded to similar situations.