March 2018: On Sunday, March 18, 2018, two Sacramento police officers killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, a father, a brother, a grandson. By now, many of you have seen the videos of police chasing him into his grandmother’s backyard and firing 20 shots, six hit him in the back. Lying on the ground lifeless, they waited for backup and then handcuffed him as he lay dying. Officers claimed they thought he had a gun, but they found only a cell phone. The local chapter of Black Lives Matter has been extremely active and vocal in insuring that the public is apprised of this awful injustice.
Following a report of vehicle break-ins the neighborhood, law enforcement never confirmed that Stephon was the perpetrator. Officers had no way of knowing whether the man they saw running had previous encounters with law enforcement before using lethal force against him. This is not the first, or second, or even third time police in Sacramento have killed or abused an unarmed or mentally ill Black person in our City. But, it must be the last.
Our community mourns
Over the past week, I have watched and listened to statements by our public officials and community members. At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 27th, one woman’s words resonated with what I’ve been feeling all week. She said:
“20 shots, 20 shots, no waiting to find out all the facts. No waiting for those facts to come in. No calls for the officers to remain calm while the investigation was taking place, no waiting to determine if Stephon Clarke was even the person you were looking for…. 20 shots. It’s unacceptable. It’s unconscionable. But most importantly it’s inhumane.” — Loreen Pryor, Black Youth Leadership Project.
We mourn the death of Stephon Clark and our hearts go out to his family, friends, and community as we try to heal again. This unjustified killing should never have happened here in Sacramento, California. Here we exude pride in our diversity, openness, and affirmative value of people as human beings, regardless of their race and ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
We need to live up to that pride, and we urge our elected and appointed leaders to take bold and decisive action to address the systemic—and implicit—racism, fear, and prejudice that still permeates our law enforcement and community at large.
This is nothing new
Everywhere online I read comments from community members that sicken me with their lack of compassion, lack of understanding, and outright racism and hate. This type of expression defies the pride I feel about the people in our community. Similarly, when I hear complaints from sports fans and weekday commuters experiencing the minor inconvenience caused by protests over the past week, I can’t help but recognize how it pales in comparison to the hundreds of years of violence, exploitation, and oppression experienced by people of color in this country that continues to this day.
As many know, the LGBTQ community is no stranger to threats of violence. Just last week, the Sacramento LGBT Community Center received several hate-filled death threats, followed by an outpouring of public support. The events of this week quickly reminded me that support for the LGBTQ community did not exist a relatively short time ago in our nation’s history, when police brutality against LGBTQ people was commonplace.
Even today, violence against transgender women continues at an alarming rate. We consistently run into barriers with law enforcement recognizing and respecting members of the LGBTQ community in times of crisis, particularly in the context of homelessness and mental health. On Saturday, March 31, a mural will be unveiled behind the Lavender Library for Trans Day of Visibility to memorialize Chyna Gibson, a Black transgender woman from Sacramento who was one of 28 murdered in the U.S. last year.
Where do we go from here?
Cultural change is hard, but our city officials have the responsibility to lead by example, set aside the excuses used to prevent accountability, change policy and practice, and chart a future where the value of each resident’s life, from birth to natural death, is upheld with paramount importance. Our city is not safer with more police, more guns, more heavily armored vehicles. It’s safer with more compassion, understanding, support, and equitable justice for those who have been historically oppressed, forgotten, and devalued.
Too often, the loss of Black lives reflect an anti-Black bias that should never have been tolerated or brushed aside, but now can no longer be ignored. It is why we support and look to the leadership within national and local chapters of Black Lives Matter to better understand how we can support them and our inter-sectional family. We envision a region where all people feel not only safe and welcome in their own community, but are able to thrive—free of the fear of death, discrimination, or injury for who they are. We will continue to advocate for Black lives, Brown lives, and Trans lives because we believe every resident has a right to live in community free of fear, one where we can all be proud to call home.
#BlackLivesMatter #TransLivesMatter #SayTheirNames #StephonClark #ChynaGibson