Gun reform has been an increasingly debated and publicized topic since the new year. With 22-year-old unarmed Stephen Clark being fatally shot by police in Sacramento, California, on March 18, it is clear that reform should not only be implemented on a civilian level, but with our police too.
Sacramento police were investigating vandalism in the neighborhood before ending Clark’s life. Assuming the cellphone he was holding was a gun, two officers fired up to 20 shots at Clark. His autopsy reported that eight bullets hit him, six in the back, one in the neck and one in the thigh.
The optics of this autopsy negate the police press release that said the two officers “saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands.”
It does not seem likely that six bullets lodged in a dead man’s back would occur if he had been running toward them with an alleged gun-turned-cellphone. An unarmed man’s life should not have been taken — at the rate of eight bullets to the body — regardless of the officers fearing a cellphone’s mistaken identity. Lethal force was by no means necessary.
Reform and systematic change is required at a federal level to prevent tragedies like this again. According to the Washington Post, 277 people have been killed by police officers in 2018 alone. This is not a new phenomenon and it is not one that has been taken lightly.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have been demanding justice and police reforms since 2013 after killings of black men such as Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Eric Garner. Clark’s death joined this lineup on March 29 as a BLM protesters took to the streets of Sacramento. Yet reform remains nonexistent as the volume of police killings persist.
A federal intervention should be mandated to ensure more lives are not senselessly taken. However, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Clark shooting was a “local matter.”
To declare that Clark’s addition to the number of black men who are tragically and unjustly slain by police is merely “local” when the frequency of these killings occurs nationally is unsound and complacent. Lack of reform signifies that neither law enforcement nor legislators value black lives.
Police training should be modified.
This method of fire first and think later is unsustainable. Using fatal force should be a last resort in terms of police action to de-escalating a situation, especially in cases like Clark, where a suspect is unarmed.
When police are under investigation for killings, it should not be the responsibility of the officers’ own department to examine the case. A higher-level or third-party department should assess these cases to ensure fairness and objectivity.
These types of changes are required on a national level. It is clear that local governments and police departments will not effectively address this epidemic. The right to safety and life should not only be reserved for those with white skin.
It is entirely possible for police to defuse a situation while keeping a suspect’s life intact before being brought into custody — it has been seen before with mass shooters. Police can and should take the same measures of action when confronting a possible suspect, regardless of skin color.