Steven Estrada is Counterpoint’s Guest Contributor for this discussion. Steven is a U.S. Army Veteran, with expertise in Special Operations throughout the Middle East. He currently attends Cal State University, where he is majoring in Sociology. Steven is set to be a recurring contributor to Counterpoint, due to his proven intellect and analytical abilities.
Stephon Clark, an unarmed father of two, was gunned down by agents of the state in his grandmother’s backyard. The released body camera footage presents his broken body, destroyed under the spotlight of the hovering helicopter above it. His blood, escaping from the twenty flesh torn wounds injudiciously implanted within his muscle and sinew, seeping silently into the soil. The police officers speak out of breath with adrenaline vaporing into every subsequent spoken syllable. The scene, visceral and thick with texture and sound and sadness.
The tragedy of the shooting, which by the time of this publication has likely been broken down into minute and maddening detail, is one that we as the American public are all too familiar with. The death of a black man, the assassination of his character and the release of his murderer amalgamate this uniquely if not gratuitously American horror story. Like many tales, the meaning and the motivations of the players involved are ultimately subject to the biases and prejudices of their consumer. What colors the discord between Blacks and those who perceive themselves to be White is better characterized, not by the failed policies that predate the violence but by the sociology of America’s response to it. For it is within the responses to these murders that the hypocrisy of those who consider themselves to be “fair and impartial” is harder to hide. The theoretical underpinnings of well intentioned yet gilded American mantras like “personal responsibility” and “justice” are juxtaposed with Stephon Clark’s dying, destroyed and unarmed body. If “Good intention is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream” (Coates) then Stephon Clark’s murder should be the alarm that ends your slumber.
The “fair and impartial” will seek to rationalize the injustice, to placate the radiating contradiction of America’s exceptionalism and Stephon Clark’s bullet ridden corpse. The responses that wish to hide the maliciousness of American law enforcement towards it black citizens vary in severity of tone yet concurrently all contain an underlying insidiousness; The black body is not equal.
When someone questions why Stephon Clark ran, they are implying that Stephon Clark was guilty of a crime, of any crime. And within this prism the shooting is justified. Because there can be no punishment too severe for a black man guilty of a crime, including the destruction of his life. No jury. No due process. The black body is not equal.
And when they find his mugshots, his photos with his fitted hat tilted too far to the side they will tell you he was dangerous. They will ask, “why didn’t he comply?” They won’t think of placing themselves in front of the barrel of an institution that has consistently brutalized their bodies. That reality is another world, separate and foreign. They won’t think to because the black body is not equal.
And when you protest in the street, they will call you looters. They will seek examples from within your midst that you will have to answer for, while declaring that police violence is the result of a “few bad apples.” The destruction of Stephon Clark’s body is nothing compared to the destruction of property because the black body is not equal.
They will support demagogues in office. They will forgo the American platitudes of equality and freedom in exchange for the inequity and imprisonment of a million
Stephon Clarks. They will support harsh penalties for crime. They will exalt a system that knowingly oppresses. They will call for “unity” without providing justice. They will do so because the black body is not equal.
Stephon Clark was probably a work in progress. There will be those who wish to slander his name, to cast the blame for his demise squarely on his own shoulders. I ask that you hold your law enforcement personnel to the same standards. I ask that you hold America to the same standards.
I am a “white, middle-aged, male”. I have had both positive and negative encounters with police across this country. I have relatives, friends, and acquaintances from all walks of life. Let me be the first to second the notion that our society, still to this day, does not equate “the black body” to that of any other racial or ethnic group.
Throughout the past few weeks all the media cares to discuss is the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, and the purported sexual escapades of our current President from years ago. Stephon’s shooting, read murder, barely even presented a blip on the mass media. For at least two days the only outlet I witnessed presenting this story was NPR. Why is that? Does this not compare to Parkland because “it was only one person”? Is it because he was a black male in California? Were there not enough ratings to be garnered from running with this story against “Stormy-Gate” or “Tidepod kids demand gun reform”?! Stephon Clark was not a man that passed away in his sleep due to old age or someone who succumbed to some later stage disease. He was an unarmed man that was shot in the backyard of his grandparent’s house!
Steve, your words rang true as I followed this story. Protests indeed took place, and participants were labeled. Media coverage of the protests focus on the more violent portions of the events. Little else is mentioned about the underlying problem here; Equality and accountability. Everyone has the capacity for compassion, understanding, and assistance, just as they do for hatred, cruelty, and violence. In my mind, what a large portion of this issue comes down to is a lack of the prior, which leads to an ease in accepting the later. This is no more true than in the world of policing. Especially when there is such a drastic disparity between the police force and the community served. If an individual does not relate to another on at least a few of the most basic ways, how is he/she expected to truly understand or assist that person?
By far, the majority of people that are police officers in this country are “white males”. The Center for Public Integrity clearly displays this disproportionate finding in their release on accountability (Center). Why is this? Even the military, which makes up only less than 1% of our total population, has seen steady increases in racial diversity, to the point where ” racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department Active Duty in 2015″ (Pew Research). Logic would say that our “racial and ethnic minority group” citizens now feel more comfortable fighting our nation’s wars than policing the streets the live on. How have we failed each other?
Why does something that is truly so inconsequential have such a humongous role in a persons life, and as witnessed, death? The color of my skin is not something that I can change if I attend more schooling, or eat better/worse, or have been raised in a healthy or damaging environment. Why then does it polarize everything? How have we allowed such an apparent systemic lack of concern towards one set of humans and an air of entitlement for another?
So far the media has still been relatively mum on this event. There was some short-lived coverage of Stephon Clark’s funeral, but then the discussion went silent. Shortly after Mr. Clark’s funeral there was reporting of even more questionable police interactions with “black” males in both Asheville, NC and Fort Worth, TX. Both of these new reports are still taking a back seat to continued David Hogg riddled platforming and the YouTube shooter coverage. Although we have come to find that the individual suspect in the Fort Worth was supposedly under the influence of “K2”, it does not excuse the fact the we continue to witness police using excessive force when encountering “black” individuals. In the case of Johnnie Rush in Asheville, NC, police stopped Mr. Rush for jaywalking. JAYWALKING. The laws in North Carolina are currently set up in favor of pedestrians, and as far as I have researched, do not punish jaywalking, even as a misdemeanor. If this is the case, then why was Mr. Rush stopped, harassed, and assaulted? In the attached video we can even witness one police officer bragging about beating Mr. Rush in the head! Why/How is this okay in our society? Where is the rest of the public outrage? Why is it that news coverage of these incidents is relegated to mere bits among the daily feeds?
For the longest time I have noted that there needs to be standardization across our nation regarding law enforcement agencies and employees. At current, there is no nation wide standard by which any state or local law enforcement agencies are bound. Each individual state has the levity to establish their minimum acceptable standards for employment, training, and operations, in addition to the obvious establishment of their own statutes, policies, and regulations. Yet, states are not under any obligation to enforce an “across the board” standard for all their sheriffs, police, constables, and highway patrol! This equates to essentially no one agency having the same limits as another. This issue includes hiring processes, academy standards, training, operational abilities/limits, and more. Would standardization across the state, at a minimum, result in better policing practices? Decreased incidents of police overreach? Decreased amount of police brutality?