Grieving while black does not come with protocols. Policing, however, does.
Stevante Clark‘s anger these days runs deep, like most black people after the news that yet another black life has been snuffed out by unjustified police violence.
His brother, Stephon Clark, was fatally shot by Sacramento police officers on March 18 in his grandmother’s backyard. Stephon was only 22 years old, and the father of two young children. In the days that followed his brother’s death, 25-year-old Stevante has been outspoken in TV interviews and led blistering protests.
His vocalness and tactics, however, have resulted in the criticism of Stevante, with some deeming him a loose cannon. But why does losing a loved one, as in Stevante’s case, require such respectability?
On March 27, he disrupted a city council meeting with a procession of young black men, chanting “Stephon Clark,” while he seemed to dance to the beat of the grief in his heart. At one point, Clark perched himself on the council room dais as he spewed expletives and shouted to his cohorts to speak his brother’s name, saying: “Louder! Louder! Louder!”
His gut-wrenching performance of young black pain is reminiscent of a church mother catching the holy ghost before she is “slain into the spirit.” It is loud, spontaneous, energetic and moving. It is also a realized visual of what the late James Baldwin told us in 1963: “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
In recent TV interviews, he’s expressed his hurt by shirking apologies from the media and vocalized how he’s found the coverage of his brother’s death to be callous at best. An interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon on March 28 came to an abrupt end when Stevante, sitting with a hollow demeanour, ice-grilled Lemon and demanded the “CNN Tonight” host say Stephon’s name.
Jamilia Land, a Clark family friend, dismisses those character assassinations.
At Saturday’s march for Stephon, she spoke out about Stevante’s erratic behavior and attributed it to PTSD.
“Stevante is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. While everyone has something to say, while everyone wants to talk negative, where are the mental health professionals in our community?” Land said.
“He needs help what you see is not rare. Every single day there is a child who looks like Stevante. We are living in communities that are like war zones … the media is a very powerful place. There will be a variety of tactics that will come. We will not dehumanize Stephon. We will not let him be dehumanized him [Stevante] because he suffers from a psychological break.”
Land’s statement is valid, and it’s hard to ignore.
Black people are policed on most things — from rearing children, to how we speak and how we dress ourselves. The black population is profiled and policed twice the amount of whites during routine traffic stops. At almost three and a half times the rate of white people, unarmed black citizens have been killed at the hands of law enforcement.
These numbers further prove the systemic racism black Americans face daily, which makes it beyond egregious to ridicule or police Stevante’s grief. It’s possible public criticism derives from a comparison of other black families who have lost children to gun violence. The parents of Trayvon Martin were so poised in their grief, it was an actual news story. Sybrina Fulton was noted for her “quiet strength.”
Let’s be clear, while Fulton’s strength is hella commendable, we all know grief is not monolithic.
Aside from him having to cope with the execution of his younger sibling, he must relive that trauma through a cycle of recaps and body camera footage shared in the media. He must deal with knowing his grandmother was allegedly interviewed for hours before she was informed that her grandson was dead in her backyard. He has to witness his mother’s angst from the loss of yet another son — an older brother died of gun violence as well. On top of all that, he will watch his two nephews grow up without their father.
The onus of respectability points towards the three Sacramento police officers, the one in the helicopter and the two who shot at Stephon 20 times. It’s half as many times the New York Police Department shot at 23-year-old Amadou Diallo, before killing him at his own front door in 1999. Diallo was unarmed — only carrying a wallet, keys and a beeper.
It has since been revealed in an independent autopsy report that of those shots Stephon was hit six times in the back, once in the neck and once in his left armpit. This news has caused even further outrage in communities as it contradicts previous police accounts, which claim Stephon was coming towards the officers which prompted them to fire their weapons.
It’s about time the police put some respect on our black ass lives.
Black people being gunned down by police and otherwise in our communities is exactly what needs critical attention. The voices of these black people need to be included in the conversation around gun reform as it’s now at the forefront of many conversations after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
We cannot lose focus by passing judgement on a slain man’s bereaving brother because grieving while black does not come with protocols. Policing, however, does have many ethics and protocols.
We lost Stephon Clark. Now, let’s help Stevante Clark live.