Marcos Bretón

Our Stephon Clark lie – ‘Diverse’ Sacramento is not as tolerant as we think

What will it take for Sacramento to move past painful days of strife over the shooting death of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police?

It will take more than African Americans demanding justice for Clark and his family. Or more than an understanding of a criminal justice system that kills and incarcerates black men at alarming rates. More than the realization that an unarmed man should not have lost his life because cops were looking for a guy breaking windows.

And it will take seeing Clark as more than a "criminal," as he is too often branded by non-African Americans.

Because as much as we extol Sacramento for being diverse, that point of pride is often exposed as a lie in our public discourse. We have a wonderful city, but we lead separate lives within it, many of us retreating to our privileged silos in moments of public fear and unease.

Clark's death has been that moment for Sacramento.

Now that Clark, who was 22 and a father, has been eulogized and buried, some who live a safe distance from the neighborhood where Clark was gunned down on March 18 are poised to move on. That is not so for those who identify with Clark's life and death.

That racial, cultural and economic divide means that Sacramento could still erupt in violence. Sacramento's happy veneer of diversity could be damaged for years to come because enough of us remain polarized over why Clark died and what should be done about it.

We have already seen heightened tensions among bystanders inconvenienced by the Clark protests that have unfolded across the city in recent days. While Clark's funeral service was streamed live on social media Thursday, the public comments from viewers were often intolerant or abusive of speakers at the service, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, or Clark's brother, Stevante, who drew scorn for his emotional display.

If we view the anguish expressed at Clark's memorial with contempt or condescension, then we're nowhere. If enough of us are tired and bored with it and want to move on, then we're only marking time until the next Stephon Clark story.

We can reform police practices or insist on independent investigations of police shootings. Or lobby for juridical reform that rethinks the wide latitude cops are given under law to use deadly force. But changing our biases about Stephon Clark are just as daunting.

Clark didn't deserve to die. He shouldn't have been shot at 20 times because he may have been breaking windows in his neighborhood. If you think Clark had it coming, and have no problem of this incident, then that's where our shared troubles begin. The impulse to view people who are different from us as "the other" is the wedge undermining Sacramento's view of itself as a city of diversity.

If we view Clark's life and death as an abstraction, a conversation point with a short shelf life before quickly moving on, then we're lost. Questions of what should or will be done about the police officers who killed Clark are for another day. Police and court reforms are for another day.

But as a community, if we can't get behind the idea that this young man should not have died, then police and court reforms are even more unlikely. Because such reforms happen only when enough people feel they have enough of a stake to demand that their elected officials – Mayor Darrell Steinberg, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, Attorney General Xavier Becerra – do what is difficult and needed to prevent the death of the next Stephon Clark.

We must care about the deceased and his family and believe that his death was an injustice. If we don't, then we are no better than Ferguson, Mo., or other communities stained by injustice and the blood of a young African American who should not have died at the hands of police.

So, who are we, Sacramento? Are we true to the image we have of ourselves? God help us if we're not.

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