By Frederick H. Lowe
A black Sacramento, California, police officer and his partner shot to death a 22-year-old unarmed African-American man whose killing has sparked protests, more unanswered questions about deadly police shootings, the reliability of witness identification and whether the police killed the wrong man for a property crime.
The office of John Burris, a prominent civil rights attorney based in Oakland, California, on Friday identified the officers as Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal. They have been assigned to desk duty, following the deadly shooting of Stephon Clark. Mercadal is black.
A protest march on Thursday shut down Interstate 5 and almost disrupted the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks. Angry protestors chanting Clark’s name and “Black Lives Matter” also blocked Golden 1 Center’s entrances, the Kings’ home court. This forced employees to the lock doors, preventing most of the fans from getting inside. Nonetheless, a small number of fans did get inside, and the game went on though it was delayed. Sacramento won.
Vivek Ranadive, the Kings’ majority owner, spoke to the crowd from center court after the game. Ranadive called for unity. NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal also owns a piece of the Kings.
Sacramento residents were protesting Sunday’s deadly shooting of Clark in his grandmother’s backyard. The two police officers each fired 10 shots at Clark, claiming he was armed with a gun. He was holding only a cell phone.
After the shooting, the police officers reloaded their guns and waited five minutes for other cops to arrive before administering CPR. The cops also switched off their microphones and body cameras.
Police were dispatched to the 7500 block of 29th Street after a caller claimed a man was breaking car and truck windows. The caller said the alleged thief was a man about 6’1’’ to 6’ 3” inches tall and thin. He did not mention the person’s race. The caller said the burglar was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with white dots and stripes on the front.
The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department helicopter trailed the suspect in the air, leading police to Clark’s grandmother’s backyard where Robinet and Mercadal confronted him. Clark approached them with his cellphone in one hand. Believing he was armed and fearing for their lives, the cops started shooting.
Clark was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, with a “North Face” logo on its front. Clark’s brother said Stephon was either 5’8’ or 5’9.”
The Right Man or Not?
On Wednesday, a reporter asked Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who is black, if he believes Clark was the man neighbor reported was breaking car windows.
“Do I believe he was the one based on what we know now? I believe that, yeah, but can we factually say it yet? No. But when and if we can, we will put that out,” Hahn told The Sacramento Bee newspaper.
In the book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men,” author Paul Butler points out that the most-common fear about African-American men is that they are responsible for committing most crimes.
“For young black men, this stereotype is so deeply entrenched that unless they affirmatively demonstrate they are not criminals, people assume they are,” Butler wrote.
For example, a white woman in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago, saw a black man getting into a car. She called police and said he was trying to steal it.
Four Evanston cops rushed the man, later identified as Lawrence Crosby, a Ph.D student at Northwestern University, and violently threw him to the ground. It was later learned that the 25-year-old Crosby was getting into his own car.
Butler added another surprising fact. Although most deadly shootings of black men by white cops receive a lot of media attention, studies show it is more likely for a black cop to shoot a black person.
A study by ProPublica, referenced in Butler’s book, analyzed federal data from deadly shootings from 2010 to 2012. Seventy-eight percent of people African-American officers shot were black compared to 46 percent of the people killed by white cops.