EDITORIAL: Stephon Clark’s death needs to be watershed moment of change


Emily Rabasto

Five-year-old Elias Taylor sits upon his mother Teriah Taylor’s shoulders as he holds a sign in a demonstration that took place around downtown Sacramento on Friday, March 23, 2018. Teriah said that she attended the march and brought her son to the demonstration, held in response to the shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police, because. “My son’s life matters. I don’t want him to end up like so many others, with their lives cut short.”

Of the graduates walking the stage at the end of this semester, many will be 22 years old, looking forward to what their lives after earning their degrees hold for them.

Late on March 18, Stephon Clark’s life ended at 22, when a reported 20 rounds were fired at him by police as he was pursued into his backyard while holding only a cell phone. Clark was suspected of breaking into cars and homes in his neighborhood, and tracked to his house by a police helicopter.

Much effort will rightfully be spent in the coming days, weeks and months to figure out what needs to be done in the wake of Clark’s death. It was a pertinent example of a troubling pattern of behavior by Sacramento police and police in general.

Nandi Cain, a 24-year-old black man, reached a financial settlement with the County of Sacramento after he was violently arrested for jaywalking in an incident that received national attention.

Officer Anthony Figueroa pinned Cain to the ground and struck him in the face multiple times, and Cain said he was stripped naked and verbally abused while in jail.

Joseph Mann was a 50-year-old black man, homeless and mentally ill, who had 911 called on him for apparently waiving a knife and behaving erratically outside an apartment building near Del Paso Boulevard.

He was pursued by two separate units in cars as he continuously walked away, ignoring instructions and maintaining possession of his knife.

Then-Officers John Tennis and Randy Lozoya were in the third squad car to arrive; the pair immediately attempted to run Mann over twice. In dashcam video, Tennis can be heard saying he is going to attempt to hit Mann, and Loyoza can be heard telling Tennis to “go for it.”

When Mann managed to avoid being struck, they were the only two officers to pursue him on foot. Surveillance video shows Mann standing to face the two when they point their guns at him and almost immediately open fire, shooting Mann 14 times.

The names of other black Americans killed by police that spurred the national Black Lives Matter movement are well known: Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille. And there are many more.

Yet there are still vocal critics of Black Lives Matter as a movement. It is hard to imagine anyone reading the stories and watching the available footage of these deaths not being able to empathize with a community in a near-constant state of grief and fear.

Worthwhile arguments can and should be made for more community policing, retraining of Sacramento police officers and rewriting body camera ordinances so officers are no longer able to mute the microphones attached to their uniforms.

Sacramento State students and community members should work to get involved in the change. Today, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on campus is hosting an event at the Multi-Cultural Center discussing Clark’s death. Sacramento at large will continue to host similar events.

These events should be highly attended; they are important, and can help bring this city together after being pushed into the spotlight for being torn apart.

Ultimately, Sacramento needs to stare unflinchingly at this tragedy and be truthful in a diagnosis of what can be done next.