California Forum

As we await decision on Stephon Clark shooting, Dr. King’s vision remains to be seen

Stevante Clark, talks with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn before the city council meeting on Tuesday April 10, 2018 at City Hall in Sacramento. His brother, Stephon Clark, was unarmed when he was fatally shot by Sacramento Police in the backyard of his grandparents home.
Stevante Clark, talks with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn before the city council meeting on Tuesday April 10, 2018 at City Hall in Sacramento. His brother, Stephon Clark, was unarmed when he was fatally shot by Sacramento Police in the backyard of his grandparents home. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

A river of pain flowed in the streets of Sacramento following the shooting death of Stephon Clark. Another unarmed black man shot and killed by police. The shock of losing a grandson, a son, a brother, a nephew and a father fueled an eruption of pain and anger that has been growing over the years. This anger was the culmination of previous police shootings, institutional racism and entrenched poverty.

Anxiously, we await the decision on whether or not Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert will bring criminal charges against the officers responsible for Stephon’s death.

Anything less than the honest disclosure of the circumstances of the shooting will only add to the pain of Clark’s family, friends and the community.

We at Sacramento Area Congregations Together applaud Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn’s request for the attorney general to evaluate how the police department handles critical incidents. The release of the attorney general’s report last month, which outlined practical steps Chief Hahn’s department can take to improve the training and deployment of officers, was a welcome step.

Still, the racial profiling of young black men by law enforcement continues to have lethal consequences without accountability. Day after day, people of faith and community members have protested and prayed, calling for justice to be done.

Opinion

Political and civil leaders in our community have been granted a sacred trust by those they serve. They must use those positions of power for the sake of justice. As long as young lives are cut short unjustly and the perpetrators go unpunished, it’s hard to trust in the reforms the Sacramento Police Department says it’s implementing.

As a coalition of faith communities, Sacramento ACT holds that every single person’s life is valuable to God and to the human family. As long as black lives do not matter to many of those in power, we cannot say all lives matter.

We appeal to law enforcement to be disturbed by this lack of justice. Break the code of silent loyalty. Gain the respect of the communities you serve by holding one another accountable for wrongs committed.

We appeal to the wider community to hear the cries of the people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” wrote of his disappointment with those who prefer a “negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

His disappointment would no doubt continue today as the voices of a traumatized community are met with indifference and hostility.

Sacramento residents can choose instead to listen with humility. Rather than changing the channel, we can listen to what the black community is saying. We can listen deeply to the pain of a community that has faced these kinds of preventable tragedies innumerable times.

Rather than criticize on social media, we can reach out to our black friends and neighbors. We can ask them how they are and how we can support them. And we can shift our conversations to ones that may force us to sit in places of tension without easy answers.

No decision or report will restore Stephon Clark’s — or any shooting victim’s — life. To honor the lives that have been lost, we must address the pain, the broken promises and the distrust in our community.

After the assassination of Dr. King, Ralph McGill wrote that in King’s hometown, “much of the violent reaction to this bloody murder could be blunted if in every city and town there would now be a resolve to remove what remains of injustice and racial prejudice from schools, from training and job opportunities, from housing and community life.”

Wise and hopeful words from half a century ago — still waiting to be realized. May our prayers for peace be coupled with actions for justice.

Rev. Dr. Joy Johnson is the president of the Board of Sacramento ACT (Area Congregations Together) and leads the Sacramento ACT Faith Leader Caucus which includes 48 members from multiple faith traditions who stand together with this collective statement.
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