Stephon Clark: How to Deal With Police Shootings

Living in Sacramento, the news these past few weeks that has been on everyone’s mind is the Stephon Clark shooting. While there hasn’t been a full investigation, Video from the foot officers’ body cams and the footage from the police helicopter was almost immediately released. Also released was the 911 call that was precursor to the whole incident. In response to this incident, protests are being held everyday, highways & streets are temporarily being blocked, and basketball stadiums have been shut down on game day. This protest response has become common response for all police shootings especially in the African American community. Often the protesters and some mainstream news organizations paint the incident as an innocent being unreasonably killed by trigger happy, racist, police officers that use excessive force. Those on the side of the police will use the actions predating the incident itself as justification for police actions as well as the actions of the protesters themselves to delegitimize the outrage felt by the protesters. This often causes the situation to become more divisive and obfuscate the true issue underlying these police/citizen altercations. The true underlying issues is what I would like to discuss today.


To get to discussing the real issues of these types of police altercations we should first clarify where this divisiveness is coming from.


Far too often, people diagnosing these cases attempt to assign responsibility to one of the party’s and clemency to the other. In these cases it is not a good guy and a bad guy situation. I argue that both are at fault for different actions taken and also that bother are victims of the greater issue.


Like most issues with human beings there is a complex interwoven amount of factors that underlie the issue itself. In a world where many postmodern ideals and teachings are espoused, people tend to look at a situation’s factors as a whole and try to solve for the whole. This often leads to conclusions that are not entirely thought out, are misdirected, and whose solutions have terrible repercussions. It is often better to solve the underlying factor “strands” of the interwoven issue on their own than as a whole. In the case of these police shootings the strands that are common through each issue and are most critical to unravelling the issue are not tied to race or income. Rather, the critical strands are police procedure, citizen procedure, and police training.


In response to incidents, like the Stephon Clark shooting, California legislators have already proposed a [bill] that is aimed at making law enforcement more hesitant to fire their firearms by saying police officers can only use deadly force when “necessary”, not “reasonable”. While I don’t believe this policy will change much, it does show that people are looking in the right area. The law should more clearly outline and make more publicly transparent on what it deems “necessary” or “reasonable”. By doing so the law will be able to better work as the litmus test for outrage. An example of this clarification would be parameters around, as in the case of Stephon Clark and many other regular citizens in police shooting altercations, “does thinking that the suspect possesses a firearm constitute enough of a threat to allow a police officer to shoot?”. I would soundly say “no”, but these are the types of laws we need to have clarified.


After clarifying what is bad justification, we as citizenry can better direct our outrage to cases that actually deserve out outrage. As of now, our view on the Stephon Clark case is too subjective. People could easily view Stephon Clark’s actions as a reason to fire, while others could say the opposite. By having clearer police procedure well disseminated throughout the populace we can know what to expect from the police and help release some of the tension from the situation.


The reflective part of the solution is that there should be a clear and concise set of actions the civilian can do to help mitigate their likelihood of becoming a victim of police altercations. Something as simple as stop moving, lay on the ground, hands on head. I know this runs the risk of falling into some sort of long winded “rule-utilitarian” procedure, but even some basic structure can do most cases benefit. I mean look at fires and “stop, drop, and roll”. It may not be applicable to all situations, but it does work for most. I should state that this side of the solution must be precursored by police being more forgiving of off script actions. After all, just like sparring with someone, the police are the initiating actor in this situation.


This last sentiment leads up into the next core issue that needs to be scrutinized over, police training. Implementing the first two solutions will require police take a less offensive-defensive posture and a more true defensive position. In the modern era, this means hesitating to use your firearm. However, being hesitant to use your firearm comes with an increased risk of injury or danger to the police officer. If we want to keep the civilian safe AND the officer safe this means more warnings and announcement before the altercation. This would look something like the officer remaining in his car or around the corner while he announces his presence, intentions, and agreed upon procedure instructions. In the case of Stephon Clark, this would have looked like the police staying behind the corner, demanding that Stephon come out of the house, and relying on the helicopter or peaking around the corner to check for compliance. Time is always on the side of the encircling force and so they must have the patience to allow the person they are assaulting to respond.


All this writing isn’t to say that either side is wrong. I believe there are good acting people and bad acting people on both sides of the fallout from the Stephon Clark shooting. In an emotionally charged situation like this, what differentiates a good actor from a bad actor is how they channel their emotions, anger, frustration. Sitting on Sacramento City’s panel and shouting down people trying to solve the underlying issue isn’t helpful solution. Calling people racist or leftist isn’t helping advance any cause. Looking for leftists to beat up not only goes against core libertarian principles, its outright wrong. These examples are semi-understandable, but they aren’t good. When all the anger and sadness subsides, what improvement for Sacramento is left behind? That is what the legacy of Stephon Clark will be and I hope that his legacy is one of police procedure, civilian procedure, and police training reform.

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