California Forum

Will Stephon Clark’s death pick up where Joseph Mann’s left off?

Protesters chant during a Day of Action protest in downtown Sacramento hosted by Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Anti Police-Terror Project in Sacramento, Calif., on Wed., April 4, 2018. The demonstrators are seeking justice for Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard.
Protesters chant during a Day of Action protest in downtown Sacramento hosted by Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Anti Police-Terror Project in Sacramento, Calif., on Wed., April 4, 2018. The demonstrators are seeking justice for Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard. rbyer@sacbee.com

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”— Fannie Lou Hamer

Some might misinterpret Fannie Lou Hamer’s words as the expression of a tired warrior, resigned to an ignoble and inglorious fate. I would challenge us all to read them as a clarion call to establish an absolute point of demarcation.

Today, black Sacramentans face the challenge of being viewed by law enforcement as “armed and dangerous” each time they engage and interact with one of us. Sacramento is better than that. Enough is enough.

Today, black Sacramentans face the challenge of being viewed by law enforcement as “armed and dangerous” each time they engage and interact with one of us. Sacramento is better than that. Enough is enough.

In July 2016, Sacramento police received a 911 call about the erratic behavior of Joseph Mann, a homeless and mentally ill neighbor of ours. They could have used non-lethal force to detain him for questioning. Instead, within seconds of arriving on the scene, officers tried to run him over with their cruiser, then fired 14 rounds into him.

Upon Mann’s death, several Sacramento community leaders and organizations, including the NAACP, worked closely with our city’s political leadership to alter policing practices and procedures. New policies were born, including some to open more dashcam and bodycam footage to public viewing. Sacramento police officers were required to take additional training in non-lethal force and de-escalating interactions. Sacramento hired a well-respected African-American native son to lead its police department.

The NAACP has embraced these strategies across the state and nation, but the senseless killings keep happening. These soft reforms are not breaking through the “blue code” that puts police officers’ protections under the “Peace Officers Bill of Rights” above the lives of innocent African-Americans.

Unfortunately, with the recent death of Stephon Clark at the hands of Sacramento police officers, we know our work to improve how law enforcement interacts with our community is incomplete.

The most fundamental civil right is the right to remain among the living. California citizens should demand a thorough investigation into the events leading up to the death of this young man, unarmed in his grandmother’s backyard.

If the officers who took Clark’s life are found to have acted inappropriately under the circumstances, they should be terminated from employment and criminally prosecuted. Every life matters. Perhaps this is the tipping point.

The mayor, city councilmembers, the attorney general, and the chief of police are all suffering along with Sacramento residents. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, whose campaign for equality was denied, the State Conference, as in the past, held hearings and worked with state elected officials to change necessary state laws.

Clark’s death showed that to be to no avail. We have asked for a review of police policies and practices that appear to give them more rights than citizens of our communities. Meanwhile, let us be more concerned about the African-American mothers, African-American wives, Latino mothers and Latino wives, who have to deal with their families being destroyed by police misconduct.

We want all Californians to support the new landmark policy proposed by Assemblymembers Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty on the use of deadly force by police officers, because, truly, enough is enough.

Alice A. Huffman is president of the California-Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP. Reach her at alicehuffman@sbcglobal.net.

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