This week the family of Stephon Alonzo Clark said their final farewells to their dearly loved grandson, father, brother and fiancé. Joining them in their mourning are the many friends and community members who knew Stephon Clark for all or part of his short 22 years on this earth.
The personal grief they are feeling ripples out in ever widening circles. First it touches those in our community who have endured similar experiences of loss. Then it strikes those of us who have experienced situations in which race defined our treatment by those who are supposed to protect us. Finally, it reaches those who may not have personal experience with injustice, but whose hearts rebel when they see any fellow human being treated with less dignity than they deserve.
As a city, we can try to simply figure out ways to live through this moment politically, in hopes that the pain and anger will diffuse, or we can understand that this is a moment in which a movement has begun.
Our entire community should mourn yet another police shooting death of an unarmed black man.
But in our mourning we must do more than offer condolences and prayers, valuable though those are. We must commit ourselves to justice on behalf of Stephon Clark and on behalf of his sons, who must still grow up in a city that needs to protect, value and invest in their success.
We must also demonstrate to all of our young people, many of whom are justifiably angry at yet another example of their lives being seen as expendable, that we value them and their potential.
A part of Stephon’s legacy is the unity that his tragic death has brought to all parts of our African American community, and that reaches beyond to many in our broader Sacramento community. As a founder of the Build. Black. Coalition, I can say that we are united in our insistence that our city’s leaders commit themselves to doing what is right.
It’s got to be clear; it’s got to be unequivocal. The trauma experienced by the Clark family and this community must be healed. And the situational elements that led to the shooting death of Mr. Clark, and the context in which they occurred, must be addressed through change.
These forces cannot be covered up or hidden. This city and its leaders are at a critical juncture, and as I stated in my comments to the City Council this week, “you cannot be blue, you cannot be political and you cannot stand on the fence. You have to stand on the side of what is right. And you have to do it now.”
As a city, we can try to simply figure out ways to live through this moment politically, in hopes that the pain and anger will diffuse, or we can understand that this is a moment in which a movement has begun. Every Sacramentan has been impacted by this tragedy, and our resolve to address, or not, the underlying systemic and societal issues that caused it is on display to the world.
Our actions going forward will define who we are as a community. Those of us fighting for equity and justice are not going to change our tune.
We are willing to work with our city’s leadership. But we demand that change in this city happen and that it happens now. This is how we will honor the life of Stephon Alonzo Clark.
Chet P. Hewitt is president and chief executive officer of Sierra Health Foundation. Reach him at email@example.com.