Last year in Sacramento, police shot and killed a 22-year old man named Stephon Clark. As is the case with most police shootings of black suspects, the man was unarmed. The confrontation began with a foot chase by Sacramento police that ended in the backyard of Clark’s grandmother’s house. According to police accounts, they suspected he was someone who had been going around busting out car windows.
The officers involved in the shooting claimed they thought he had a gun in his hand. In actuality, it was Clark’s cell phone that they mistook for a gun. The shooting caused large amounts of protests in Sacramento and beyond. On March 2, 2019, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced no charges would be filed against the officers because they committed no crime.
Therein appears to lie the problem. The current laws surrounding law enforcement shootings give police sweeping protections to the level of unaccountability.
Police need only claim to be in fear for their life and they are granted immunity from accountability. It’s incumbent on legislators and state government to revise these laws.
Police officers involved in shootings are rarely held accountable for their wrongful actions; and even when they are, the road to justice is often bumpy. Such a rough case was the Oscar Grant shooting that happened at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009. Despite video evidence, BART police still tried to excuse that shooting.
To address the problem, lawmakers will be tasked with balancing the safety of police officers and their ability to respond to threats, all the while still holding them accountable if they err in judging these threats. There is pending legislation aimed at addressing this imbalance and hopefully it will help to rein in these police shootings.