FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Black Lives on Trial

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

March 18, 2018. Sacramento, California. Two police officers, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, respond to a 9-1-1 call about an individual breaking car windows. They track the suspect down. They see the suspect is holding a gun. Or a tool bar. They fire twenty rounds.

Seven bullets enter Stephon Clark’s body from the back. One hits his chest.

Clark, a 22 year-old black man in his grandmother’s backyard, falls to his death.

Turns out what he was holding was not a gun or a tool bar, but a cell phone.

Almost a year goes by. On March 2, 2019, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announces that no criminal charges would be filed against Mercadal and Robinet. The officers had not broken the law.

Schubert proceeds by pointing out that Clark had recently been accused of assaulting the mother of his children. He had exchanged threatening text messages with his fiancé. He had looked online for information on penalties for domestic violence. He had searched the internet about suicide methods. He had drugs in his system the night of the shooting.

In other words, even if charges were pressed, it would be Clark on trial and not the officers.

It happened with Trayvon Martin. A 17 year-old black boy, walking back from 7-Eleven during halftime of the NBA All Star Game. A bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea in his pocket. A cell phone in hand. He was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who thought Martin looked suspicious. Zimmerman was not a policeman, but was policing nonetheless. He cited self-defense and was released from custody that same night. The verdict in the ensuing trial: Not guilty.

Zimmerman was acquitted because ultimately it was Martin who had been on trial all along. It was Martin who was being judged for his hoodie, marijuana, graffiti, and tattoos. Martin, who was portrayed as a dangerous hoodlum, rather than a teenage boy who eats Skittles and watches basketball. A teenage boy who was murdered on his way back from a 7-Eleven.

It happened with Michael Brown. Another unarmed black teenager. He was killed by police officer Darren Wilson who fired twelve bullets at him. According to some witnesses, during the confrontation Brown had his hands up in surrender. According to police records, Wilson shot him in self-defense. In his grand jury testament Wilson described Brown having “the most intense aggressive face,” “like a demon.” “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he appealed. Brown was 6′ 4″, weighing 292 lbs. Wilson, 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs.

Stephon Clark, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland… Trial after trial, the killers are acquitted. The deaths, somehow justified.

Mumia Abu-Jamal would say of the dead: Executed twice, the second time in the court system.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: “The police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes.” “When the Negroes were freed,” he explained, “and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge.”

Not a question of crime, but rather one of color.

Whether Stephon Clark was holding a gun, tool bar, or cell phone did not matter. He was black.  His blackness was the real threat. His blackness was the crime.

And now, even after his death, his life remains on trial. Just like those who came before him. Just like those who will soon be slain.

More articles by:

Ipek S. Burnett is a depth psychologist, novelist, and academic living in San Francisco.  

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail