Stephon Clark’s fiancee sobbed in anguish after hearing that no charges would be filed against the two Sacramento police officers who fatally shot the father of her two children.
The results of this case are "continuing the shameful legacy of officers killing black men without consequences and breaking my family’s hearts, again," Salena Manni said through tears during a news conference after Saturday's announcement by the Sacramento County district attorney.
On Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra doubled down on the decision, refusing to bring closure to this already grief-stricken family.
The disgraceful lack of justice for another black man killed by police makes this a tragedy many times over.
Clark, 22, was fatally shot in his grandmother’s back yard last March after police officers responded to a vandalism call. The officers first claimed they thought he had a gun and said they feared for their lives. But when his body — riddled with gunshots — was finally rolled over, there was only a cellphone.
That the DA refused to file charges against the officers is a devastating blow to Clark’s family, a travesty for all black Americans and yet another miscarriage of justice.
Evidence shows Clark was shot from behind several times. If he was advancing on the officers, as was purported, then why was he shot in the back and the side? Why were 20 shots fired, striking him eight times, even while he was falling to the ground?
Why did the offending officers mute their body cameras? What were they trying to hide?
These facts cannot be reconciled with the DA’s narrative that the officers feared for their lives. This complex case should have been brought before a judge and jury in a criminal trial. That it wasn’t denies the community the full benefit of our justice system — a system that should be based on facts and evidence.
Statistics on police shootings underscore the fact that prosecutors are reluctant to bring charges against officers. I can’t help but wonder: If Clark had been a white man in a white neighborhood, would he have been shot? And if so, would the officers have been brought to justice?
Shoot first, ask questions later. Tough, split-second decisions are made in the heat of the moment. It is this kind of timeworn testimony from officers who think black men always pose a threat that allows these deaths to happen — and to go unchecked and unpunished in a criminal justice system that seems hell-bent on protecting cops at all costs.
Prosecutors nationwide need to be challenged to do the right thing — investigate in a timely manner and hold officers accountable when they do wrong. This investigation should not have taken almost a year, especially when there is video footage of Clark’s death. In this case, as in so many others, the DA protected officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.
We must ask, should a possible vandalism call end with any unarmed citizen being pumped full of bullets to his death? Is that the best we can do to keep our communities safe? Letting these cops off without criminal charges for their actions is yet another gut punch to Clark’s family and community.
Clark isn’t coming back and his death still hurts. His two young children are fatherless. His fiancee and family are now doubly traumatized by seeing the officers who shot Clark walk away. Clark’s grandmother, who was in the house the night of the shooting, was hospitalized, under great stress the day the DA declined to seek charges. The fact that the investigation dragged on only to have no charges filed just reinforces the distrust of Clark’s aggrieved community.
Who pays when justice isn’t served? While Clark’s family suffered shock and despair at the announcement, a shopping mall was closed because protestors staged a sit-in that authorities feared would get out of control.
But the only thing truly out of control is law enforcement’s blatant disregard for the lives of black men. An unarmed Clark did not deserve the death penalty.
All of this started with reports of a few vehicles' broken windows. If this doesn’t show what’s broken in our society and law enforcement today, then I don’t know what does.
Ben Crump is a nationally known civil rights attorney and advocate, and is the founder and principal of Ben Crump Law, www.bencrump.com. Crump is currently representing the family of Stephon Clark.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stephon Clark case ends with no charges and a disgraceful lack of justice — yet again