Innocent Lives Lost focuses on victims unjustly killed by officers who are sworn to uphold the law.
Police brutality has been an ongoing issue in our country for so long that by now we can unconsciously predict the story. It usually consists of an unarmed person of color gunned down by a police officer who was scared of them simply because of their appearance, and a judicial system that is going to let the officer go free. Unfortunately, another case of police brutality has taken yet another innocent life.
On March 18, 2018, 22-year old Stephon Clark was shot dead in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento. He was shot a total of 20 times by police officers who claimed to have mistaken his cell phone for a gun.
A couple of Tuskegee University students who were friends with Stephon Clark organized a ceremony in his honor. The purpose of the ceremony was to stand in solidarity and bring awareness to the tragedies of police brutality that take innocent lives far too often.
The memorial consisted of several extremely talented poets who shared their frustrations with the continuous acts of police brutality that we face in this country. The most common theme of their poems was that black skin is equivalent to power, which is a threat to white officers who “fear for their lives” whenever they come in contact with black people.
Some students shared their own experiences with police brutality and how it has impacted their lives. One student in particular especially empathized with Stephon Clark’s situation. Stephon was a father of two baby boys, aged one and three. The student who spoke also lost his own father to gun violence and shared with us the emotions that accompanied his loss. He often questioned why he had to lose his father. He felt an absence when he saw his friends with their fathers who came to support them at their sports games, knowing that he was robbed of being able to have that type of relationship. He expressed that Stephon’s boys will now have a void that can never be filled and that they will have to grow up dealing with the hurt of having their father mercilessly taken away from them. A common stereotype of black families is that our black fathers fail to be present in our lives. However, the same people who mock us for not having our fathers are the same people behind the triggers who take our black men away from us, and the same people who lock our fathers up for petty crimes to become victims of mass incarceration.
In addition, we received humbling words of wisdom from police chiefs who are aware of what their badges symbolize and have a genuine interest in protecting and serving all citizens in the most humane ways possible. A former chief said that in his whole career as an officer, he only had to shoot someone once. He only shot him in the shoulder with one bullet which was enough to capture him and detain him alive. There was absolutely no need for the officers involved in Stephon’s case to shoot him 20 times. A poet at the memorial stated “They did not have to shoot him 20 times. Black skin is not made of steel. We are humans, not animals.”
The former officers also told us that when they were officers they had to go through extensive training and get background checks done on not only themselves, but their immediate family members as well. Today, the process does not seem to take such precautions. They told us that they were proud to see students coming together to support a cause in the black community, and that it is important that we get continue our education because that is where our power lies. They want to see more black officers, prosecutors, judges, and lawyers so that when situations like these arise in the future, the crooked officers can be held accountable and not let off the hook with a slap on the wrist like they usually are. Together, we can help decrease the rate of lives lost to excessive police force.