Stephon Clark — Killed for Daring to Be Human

stephon clark shooting sacramento mental unrest

I feared for my safety and the well-being of my fellow officers.”

I feared for my life.”

And in the shooting of Stephon “Zoe” Clark, the officers who shot the unarmed man were “fearing for their safety.”

I’ve repeatedly written about how the killings of unarmed people of color by law enforcement personnel are almost invariably resolved with a stay-out-of-jail-free card called “fear.”

The card is deadly. Reusable. An animated foretoken of moral hazard invocation.

And damn-near indestructible. A fear card was drawn even after a police officer accidentally shot his own partner while attempting to arrest a suspect. Both officers subsequently shot the unarmed man to death in succession at point-blank range, called the deceased a crazed “gang member” who shot a cop, and got away with playing the “fear” hustle while earning hero honors — until an annoying-azzed citizen camera phone video surfaced with the high-definition truth.

It still didn’t matter. The cops saw no jail time. Fear card remains intact and ready for redeployment.

For all this fear dealing that extends well beyond the distribution points of police and news reports, society seems to pretend that the dead counterparties in these transactions have no right to feel fear.

How many of you can think clearly with a loaded gun pointed at you?

Isn’t fear a human, if not primal, emotion?

When someone draws a gun on you — whether or not you lack the means to manage the outcome of such a potentially violent engagement —- fear can quickly take over your decisions and actions.

For many humans, the response moves beyond fear and into the zone of panic.

And whether the response is fear, panic, or a combination of the two, the actions become food for the fear claimed by the armed officer or self-deputized civilian.

The results of these converging fears can be deadly.

I think of the times I’ve been stopped at gunpoint by police officers — or civilians — and wondered how I managed to survive those encounters.

My guess is that — besides God’s grace — I have a very unnatural ability to remain calm, regardless of the circumstances.

“Unnatural” is the most important term here.

Put a different way, I had to become less-than human in order to stay alive.

But at any point, a police officer could have simply claimed fear, a natural human reaction, to justify killing me.

Clark’s price for claiming his humanity — expressed through running for his life — is a funeral.

While the reward for the Sacramento police officers claiming their humanity is life.

Or at worst, should history perform as an accurate gauge here, a few days of paid administrative leave.

And that points to another sad reality: even in the face of death — up to the second before a cop decides whether or not to render an extrajudicial death penalty — people of color have to cancel their right to be human …

song currently stuck in my head: “donna lee” – jaco pastorious & rashied ali

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