Sacramento Cops Shoot Unarmed Man Dead For Holding Cell Phone While Black
Sacramento police shot and killed an unarmed black man Sunday night in his own backyard; they say they thought he was pointing a gun at them. He was holding a phone. Stephon Clark, 22, died after the cops fired 20 shots at him, although it's not yet clear how many actually hit him. Enough to kill him. The entire encounter between the Clark and the officers -- who did not identify themselves as police -- took about 6 seconds.
Police body cam video of the shooting, as well as a partial aerial view from a sheriff's helicopter, is available here; we won't post it. The body cam video is too shaky to make much sense of, but the audio shows that the cops yelled "Show me your hands, stop!" just before chasing Clark into the backyard, then shouting "Show me your hands — gun!" before the cops duck behind the house for a moment. As they come back around the corner, the cop shouts, "Show me your hands! Gun, gun, gun!" and both officers immediately fire on Clark.
A police press release says police encountered Clark while investigating a 911 call about someone breaking car windows in the area; when the sheriff's helicopter arrived, police say, the deputies in the helicopter
advised the subject had just picked up a toolbar and broke a window to a residence. The helicopter then observed the suspect running south, towards the front of the residence, where he stopped and was looking into another car.
The press release says the police saw Clark in the front yard, ordered him to raise his hands, then chased him to the back of the house. The press release then describes the actual shooting:
The press release doesn't give any sense of how little time there is in the video between the cops yelling at Clark to put his hands up, the shout of "Gun, gun, gun!" and the cops shooting. They're instantaneous. And even if Clark had vandalized cars and run from the police (as of yet, police haven't said they've found the tire iron or other implement he supposedly broke windows with), deadly force isn't usually the penalty for vandalism. Or for fleeing police. We seem to remember a guy who killed 17 people at a high school in Florida being arrested without being shot down in six seconds. Makes you wonder, huh?
Clark's grandmother, Sequita Thompson, says Clark was living with her and that because the front doorbell is broken, it was common for family members to knock on a window in back so she would open the garage door. The family disputes the police version of events, and believes Clark was just the wrong person in the wrong place. Clark had two sons and was engaged to be married.
The Los Angeles Times asked two experts to weigh in on whether the shooting seemed justified:
Ed Obayashi, a deputy sheriff and legal advisor to Plumas County, specializes in examining police shootings. He called Sunday's shooting "reasonable," adding that "a cellphone can easily be perceived as a gun in that environment of poor light."
Obayashi said the officers' "threat radar is way high" after moving through backyards in pursuit of a suspect reported to have committed several dangerous felonies, including breaking into a home. "This guy wasn't complying with orders and raised his hands with an object in his hands," he said.
Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminologist who studies police chases and shootings, disagreed.
"It doesn't look good," Alpert said, noting that "the yelling of the word 'gun' here seems to trigger the shooting."
"The officers are going to have to explain all 20 shots. They are going to have to justify repeatedly shooting," he said. "The bottom line is we have a young African American man with a cellphone being shot dead by police."
The cops have been placed on leave during the investigation.
Protesters filled the streets of Sacramento last night, blocking the streets around the Sacramento Kings basketball arena, where the management closed the entrances and didn't try to let any ticket-holders in -- that may have gotten more coverage than the shooting has.
Get ready for all the usual "why was he running from the cops?" and "why didn't he comply with orders?" justifications from the cops-are-never-wrong crowd; those are answered pretty convincingly at The Root, which notes that while the helicopter video shows Clark jumping from a neighbor's yard into his side yard, it doesn't show the cops following him, and again, the cops don't identify themselves. As for "why didn't he comply?" there's literally no pause between "Show your hands!" and Gun, gun, gun!" and the shooting. That all happens in three seconds or less -- and the cops keep firing well after he's down.
Don't expect anyone to be prosecuted for this, though, because there will easily be enough expert witnesses to say it was a perfectly justifiable shooting, and the cops were, as they always are, in fear for their lives.
The Washington Post notes that at least 230 people have been killed by police so far in 2018. March isn't even over yet.
Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.