It has been nearly two months since 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot to death in his grandparents’ backyard by Sacramento, Calif., police officers on March 18, and Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has yet to make a decision as to whether or not she will press charges against the two officers who killed him.
Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, each of whom fired 10 shots at Clark, returned to work April 9 when their paid administrative leaves ended. A department spokesman said that they were placed on modified duty and not on patrol for “safety reasons.”
Although the names of the officers were made public by Oakland, Calif., civil rights attorney John L. Burris, the Sacramento Police Department has not confirmed their identities—once again, out of concern for their safety.
For all the concern for the safety of the officers involved in Clark’s death, where is the concern for the safety of the citizens these officers are sworn to protect?
It is not as though we are without evidence that there remains a problem with the way Sacramento police interact with black men.
Daniel Hahn, who became Sacramento’s first-ever black police chief in August, acknowledged in a recent interview with NBC News that Clark’s shooting and the demonstrations that have been going on ever since were “another piece of evidence that our relationship with the community was not where it needed to be.”
Never has that been more evident than in the recent case of a black Sacramento man who was accosted by a police officer for the crime of leaving his engine running as he ran inside a local 7-Eleven store to make a purchase.
On May 4 at about 9:30 a.m., Craig Williams was forced to the ground and arrested by an officer from the SPD. Williams left his car running while he was in the store, which is a violation of an antiquated law passed some 50 years ago in response an increase in car thefts. While the punishment is usually just a fine of $47.50, the officer in this instance felt Williams needed to be arrested.
As both Williams and his girlfriend filmed the incident, the officer grabbed Williams’ arm, pushed him into the store wall and then down to the ground. In the video, Williams can be heard saying, “I give up. I give up,” while extending his arms outward so that he could be cuffed.
The aggressiveness with which the officer handled Williams was completely unnecessary and indicative of the existing problem of implicit bias. Police officers, no matter their color, seem to default to the idea that black men are somehow more threatening than anyone else. This attitude plays out in the way they deal with black men and how they use force against them.
In his interview with NBC News, Chief Hahn said, “Diversity is important and valuable, but it can’t be separated from the police culture, from the way we view what our job is, the way we view the community and the way we are viewed by the community. It’s a complicated problem that takes a nuanced solution.”
Williams was charged with suspicion of resisting arrest and leaving the ignition key in an unattended car and booked into the county jail, but in a media release on Monday, Sacramento DA Schubert said that “in the interest of justice,” her office would not pursue criminal charges against Williams.
“Justice” is such a fickle word. It means different things to different people in different circumstances.
Schubert likely believes that she is a firm administrator of justice. Since she was elected district attorney in 2014, she has seen to it that justice is served to the many offenders who are prosecuted by her office. Data from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice shows that Sacramento County sends more people to state prisons per capita than almost any other county in California.
Her office recently solved the yearslong mystery of the Golden State killer/East Area rapist using DNA evidence that was matched against DNA collected by a genealogy website. Schubert received accolades for breaking the case—coincidentally, just as she is in the middle of a heated election in an attempt to keep her job and position.
Activists and community leaders have repeatedly called Schubert out for the lack of justice served when it comes to her office’s prosecution of police officers who shoot and kill unarmed citizens. Prior to Clark’s shooting, there was Joseph Mann and Dazion Flenaugh, two men who were mentally ill. In the case of Mann, the officers in question shot and killed him after attempting to run him over with their patrol car twice. Schubert did not charge officers in either case.
Schubert and the law enforcement agencies that fall under her jurisdiction appear to be bosom buddies. It has been reported that she has received as much as $420,000 in donations from organizations tied to law enforcement in support of her re-election campaign.
In return, Schubert has—through her lack of prosecution—made a silent promise to members of law enforcement that they can continue to shoot and kill black men with impunity.
Activists took their fight directly to her office, staging protests outside the downtown building where Schubert works, and for weeks demanding justice for Stephon Clark. In response, Schubert had a 10-foot cyclone fence erected around the perimeter of the building.
In a statement emailed to the Sacramento Bee, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said:
Based upon concerns of our employees and employees of surrounding businesses, we consulted with the county, who owns our building and a decision was made to install temporary fencing. It has been determined that this is the most appropriate way to ensure the safety of employees, citizens, witnesses, victims, officers and others entering and exiting the District Attorney’s Office while still allowing the exercise of First Amendment privileges.
Yes, Schubert essentially fenced out the citizens she works for, while continuing to take money from the police. This is justice?
Schubert has said that it could take several months before her office completes its investigation into Clark’s death. It is her office that determines whether or not the officers should be charged with committing a crime for shooting and killing Clark.
The police investigation, which is ongoing, will determine whether the officers followed department training and protocols when they shot Clark.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is also conducting his own review. He will also have the option of filing charges against the officers.
But here we are, 58 days after the shooting, and there is still no resolution. The officers are back at work. The district attorney is busy running her re-election campaign and collecting police blood money to do so.
And Stephon Clark is still dead.