One year ago today, 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot and killed by two police officers as he stood in the backyard of his grandparents’ home in the Meadowview neighborhood of Sacramento, Calif.
Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet said they feared for their lives—a common refrain that often leads to law enforcement officers being exonerated in the deaths of those they kill. Mercadal and Robinet claimed they thought Clark was holding a gun. They said he took a “shooter’s stance” and aimed at them, prompting them to fire a total of 20 shots, killing him.
As it turns out, he did not have a gun. He was only holding a cellphone.
From the very beginning, police reports about the shooting were confusing and conflicting.
He had a gun. Wait, he didn’t have a gun. He had a crowbar or some sort of tool. Wait, that wasn’t correct either. He was advancing on police, yet all of the fatal shots struck him in the back.
The Sacramento Police Department released video from the shooting two days later, and it showed what we all feared—another unarmed black man had been executed by law enforcement.
What followed was a year of protests, confusion, anger and impatiently waiting to find out if the officers would be held criminally liable in his death.
A grieving family and community waited nearly a year to hear the words they likely already knew were coming.
It took Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert nearly 90 minutes during a March 2 press conference to say that neither officer would be charged in Clark’s death. But to be honest, we all knew that was coming.
There is never any true justice in these cases, even when all signs point to law enforcement making major mistakes before using lethal force.
In the case of Stephon Clark, his death prompted the Sacramento Police Department to change their foot chase policy.
The California State Department of Justice conducted a review of the department’s use of force policy and found it lacking in some areas. There is now a call for city officials in Sacramento to back a California bill that would create stricter rules for use of force—ostensibly to prevent something like this from happening again.
None of this, however, will bring back the 22-year-old father of two who was basically blamed for his own death during the DA’s press conference.
We know what drugs he had in his system and what messages were on his phone. Why was that same scrutiny not applied to the officers who shot him? If his state of mind was a big issue in his own shooting, why was the state of mind of the officers involved not called into question?
We will likely never know.
Another black man is dead, and two more police officers get to go on with their lives and careers as if nothing happened.
It is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice.
But we will continue to uplift his name.