Part 4—People, facts, tape disappear: On the evening of March 18, 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot and killed by two members of the Sacramento police force.
The New York Times has posted a video report of the incident. You can see the Times report here, under this selective headline:
"How Stephon Clark Was Killed by Police in His Backyard"
For our money, that headline is already highly selective. To our eye, the Times' editing of the available video is even worse, though thoroughly typical, a point we'll discuss below.
In our view, that Times report is journalistically abysmal. That said, an appearance on last Saturday's Washington Journal quickly raised a different question:
Should we regard the shooting death of Stephon Clark as "a murder," as "an execution?" In one way, we got our answer last year when Hillary Clinton published What Happened, her account of the 2016 presidential campaign.
At one point in her book, Clinton describes the shooting death of Trayvon Martin as a "murder." She wrote this even though a duly constituted jury had ruled that it wasn't a murder.
Was that shooting a murder? In a detailed set of real-time on-line comments, Ta-Nehisi Coates had said the jury reached the appropriate verdict, although he began back-pedaling the very next day and had completely reversed himself, without intermediate explanation, before a month had passed.
By traditional standards, it would be astonishing to see a person of Clinton's position publish such a remark. But in our current tribal war of the all against the all, traditional standards of behavior are disappearing fast, even Over Here within our own liberal tents—and even on C-Span's Washington Journal.
The C-Span guest to whom we refer was Kirsten West Savali, associate editor for social justice and education at The Root. To watch her 34-minute appearance, you can just click here.
Savali appeared on Washington Journal to discuss the topic of "Race and Police Shootings." Within the first few minutes, she had described the shooting death of Clark as "an execution" and "a murder," and as a "crime against humanity."
Beyond that, she had said that the policing in question was "a continuum of slave patrols," a general assessment she voiced at three separate points during her appearance.
Along the way, she made several indecipherable claims about the number of unarmed black women being shot and killed by police, apparently citing this largely indecipherable study from Washington University in St. Louis.
In a remarkable performance of an approach which might be called No Complaint Left Behind, she complained about the use of video and body cams in the attempt to monitor such events. She complained that video "causes a lot of trauma for a lot of people to have to see people on the ground over and over again," then said this about body cams:
SAVALI (3/31/18): It's very, very difficult to say that this is something that will be beneficial for people in the long run because they [police] still have their excuses, they still have their justifications.No complaint left behind! With respect to the death of Clark, she kept stating the fact that he was "in his own back yard," "on his family's property" when the shooting occurred.
Eventually, two callers alleged that Savali was being selective in her presentation of facts. When they did, Savali responded by repeating the same sets of facts, then saying "Those are the facts. Those are the facts," full stop, as if she possibly didn't understand the nature of the criticism.
Many people will agree with every word Savali said. To our eye, it's plain that she was fully sincere—and there is, of course, no ultimate way to judge the fairness or completeness of her assessments or of her presentations of facts.
In the end, these are always matters of judgment, and our fragile human judgment will often perhaps be bad.
Was the shooting death of Stephon Clark an execution "in occupied territory" by a continuation of slave patrols? In the end, there's no ultimate way to assess such representations, or to assess Hillary Clinton's remarkable statement that a "murder" occurred in the death of Trayvon Martin.
That said, Clinton's act represents a remarkable change in American norms. To our eye and ear, so did this blog post by Kevin Drum, who some of the analysts still describe as their favorite blogger.
The headline on that New York Times video report is, at least, factually accurate. Stephon Clark, age 22, was in fact shot and killed "in his backyard"—or at least, in his grandmother's back yard.
The headline on Drum's blog post was different. That headline implies a state of affairs which plainly isn't true:
"It’s Time to Stop Treating Every Fleeing Teenager Like a Crazed Killer"
Do American police officers "treat every fleeing teenager like a crazed killer?" To the extent that the implied claim can be paraphrased or parsed, it's clear that they do not.
The implied claim does express, in its vast frustration, the moral greatness we modern liberals bestow upon ourselves in much the way real humans breathe. But it set the tone for an anguished post which defined a new, post-morality liberal morality, a murder-crying morality which could perhaps be lighting the way toward a dusty cultural death.
The C-Span callers we cited above told Savali that she wasn't showing "enough consideration to police." In the end, that too is a matter of judgment.
For ourselves, we think that was a reasonable criticism of Savali's presentations, but we'd say it's just flat-out true concerning Drum's earlier post.
Just for the record, a question arises: Did Drum mistakenly think that Clark was a teenager, even five days after his death? Possibly not, but that's hardly clear from this passage:
DRUM (3/23/18): As my post earlier this morning made clear, teenagers these days are less violent and better adjusted than they used to be, and this is a permanent change. A few decades ago, people were chronically apprehensive around teens in public places, afraid they might be assaulted or even killed if they so much as looked at them funny. And there was something to that. Back then, teenage brains had all been damaged by a lifetime of lead poisoning, often making them impulsive and violent. But that’s long in the past, and there’s no longer any excuse for this apprehension. Without lead poisoning to wreck their brains, they’re just ordinary teenagers, like teenagers of every past era.Plainly, Drum is discussing the Sacramento police officers who shot Stephon Clark. They didn't need to fire those twenty shots, Drum says. Teenagers aren't like that today!
This is something that I wish everyone could internalize. Teenagers just aren’t unusually dangerous these days. If you chase one into a backyard and you see a glint in his hand, you probably don’t need to unload 20 rounds into his body as if you were trying to bring down a PCP-crazed rhinoceros.
Did Drum think Clark was a teenager? It's not unlike the modern liberal to throw two policemen under the bus for their conduct in a case where the liberal is unclear on even the most basic facts. That said, you may have noticed the one key word we edited out of Drum's remark:
The police offers probably didn't need to fire those twenty shots, Drum said. In our view, that word is amazingly easy to type when you're sitting in comfort and safety many miles down the coast.
For better or worse, those Sacramento police officers weren't lounging in safety and comfort that night, the way the modern progressive typically is when he executes an unexplained flip on the Zimmerman verdict. Or when he throws two officers under the bus, as Drum does in this disdainful upper-class passage:
DRUM (continuing directly): At the risk of being misunderstood, I want to add that this is very much a racial thing. The lead epidemic hit blacks harder than whites, and this meant that the violence level of black teenagers rose more than it did for white teenagers. In the early 90s, even Jesse Jackson was famously scared of black teenagers. Cops internalized this, mixed it up in a stew with lots of old-school racism, and ended up killing a lot of black teenagers.Teenagers are fundamentally a lot less violet than they used to be, Drum writes.
And they still do, even though the violence level of black teens also dropped more than it did for white teens once we removed lead from gasoline. In the year 2018, there’s just no excuse for cops or anyone else to routinely treat black teenagers as scary hoodlums who might kill them at the drop of a hat. They’re back to being ordinary people these days, just like teenagers of every other color.
...Arguments based on social justice might or might not mean much to most cops, but I’m offering them another one: teenagers of all races, and especially black teenagers, are fundamentally, permanently, a lot less violent than they used to be. It’s time to recognize that and adjust our policing strategies accordingly.
We think that's very importantly true. With respect to the good, decent, impressive kids on display in all our cities, we'd go well beyond that statement. It should be stated more often.
That said, when police officers are chasing a suspect in the dark of the night, they aren't chasing the average teenager, andt they aren't chasing the model teenager.
In the typical case, they don't know who they're chasing at all. From his easy chair far away and down the coast, Drum is willing to drop his R-bombs on these two Sacramento cops, who only knew that they were chasing a fleeing suspect who had apparently committed a series of property crimes.
It's easy for Drum to throw demographic statistics at them as they go around the corner of a house, in the dark of the night, and suddenly confront that fleeing suspect in the dark. It's easy for Drum to talk about the "stew" they maintain in their heads, "a stew with lots of old-school racism," while he sits in pundit splendor in a very safe place, tut-tutting about the way arguments based on social justice may not mean to most cops.
It's easy to do this, and it's transparently inhuman. Don't miss the key point in this:
It was OK when Jesse Jackson said that he was afraid of black teens who were just walking down the street. Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Jesse's on our team!
It isn't OK if working-class cops are apprehensive, frightened or scared when they're on the job, in the dark, chasing an unknown actual suspect. They are from the lesser breed. As everyone in the country knows, they aren't on our pseudo-liberal team. They've been Other for a long time.
This is ugly behavior. It's ugly behavior of a type which flows from the modern liberal in a way which leaves us rightly despised. Frankly, we're amazed that modern liberals aren't more despised on this general basis. Perhaps the reduction in lead exposure has reduced the impulse toward disgust.
Burrowing through his statistics about the ways of the modern average teen, Kevin Drum wasn't fearful as he composed his post. Rounding the corner of a building in the dark, chasing someone they didn't know, we're going to say that those two officers quite possibly and sensibly were.
We'll leave the question of what they should have done that night to people less fine than Drum. For ourselves, we'd like to see police officers chuck their guns and run away in a situation like that. We're going to guess that the two men on that slave patrol that night hadn't been trained to do that.
At this point, we're left with two considerations. First, let's consider the lonesome death of Bijan Ghaisar. After that, we'll return to that video report by the Times.
Who the heck in Bijan Ghaisar? He's someone you've never heard of and surely never will! At the age of 25, he was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police outside Washington last November.
Stating the obvious, you have never heard his name because he was only an unarmed Iranian-American, and that doesn't count.
In Monday's Washington Post, an editorial railed about the conduct of the police officers who shot and killed Ghaisar, and about the months of police silence which have followed. You'll see what follows nowhere else. Within our modern liberal moral disorder, people like this don't count:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (4/2/18): To put it mildly, the officers' conduct seemed at odds with good and standard police procedures, which strongly discourage pursuits unless the public would be at risk from a fleeing suspect. The Park Police's own long-standing policy allows officers to give chase only if a felony has occurred, which in this case seems doubtful, or if a suspect poses "a clear and immediate threat to public safety." There is no indication Ghaisar presented such a threat.We've discussed similar incidents in the past. Within our modern liberal squalor, it doesn't count if whites or Hispanics are shot and killed in apparently ludicrous situations. To the list of the liberally disappeared, we can now add people like Ghaisar.
As for approaching his car with guns drawn, which the officers did twice, that also defies common sense and sound procedure. In the dash-cam video, recorded by a Fairfax County police cruiser that tailed the Park Police car, the officers are seen opening fire after Ghaisar's vehicle has stopped, and is starting to roll slowly away again—and presenting no visible threat to anyone. Incredibly, they fired nine bullets at Ghaisar, hitting him four times in the head.
Official silence is no longer acceptable. A man is dead. Why?
Finally, let's consider that New York Times video report, which appears beneath this headline:
"How Stephon Clark Was Killed by Police in His Backyard"
The Times selected one lone fact to place in that headline. Stephon Clark "was in his backyard," our greatest newspaper declared.
Essentially, that's accurate. Having said that, please note the way Sacramento's KCRA-TV, an NBC affiliate, presented that accurate fact in a similar video report:
"As the two officers run, guided by the chopper, Stephon Clark climbs on top of something and jumps over a fence and, unbeknownst to police, into his gramdother's yard."
KCRA included a second fact! Police officers didn't know that Clark was "in his own back yard." And yes, that actually matters.
Duh! On C-Span, Savali said, again and again, that Clark had been "in his own yard," "on his family's property," when he was executed by the slave patrol. By the time she was done, a listener might have thought that Clark had been cooking burgers on the grill when police officers arrived at his home, then shot and killed him.
In fact, Clark had been fleeing police, running through other back yards and hurtling over at least one fence on his way to his own back yard, which police didn't know was his. This brings us to the remarkable bit of editing the New York Times executed on the tape it includes in its videotape report.
On the original, widely aired helicopter videotape, Clark is clearly shown vaulting over a fence into his own back yard. You're still allowed to see that video in that KCRA report.
By now, though, the New York Times has apparently decided that you shouldn't see that. Along with many other orgs, they have edited—disappeared—that part of the videotape. When you see the Times videotape report, you aren't told that the police officers didn't know that Clark "was in his own back yard." Also, you aren't allowed to see the full tape of his flight that night.
Did those officers misbehave that night? We'l leave that question to people more experienced than we and less tribal than Drum.
But starting with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the liberal world has disappeared and invented facts about every one of these widely discussed police shooting incidents. We've done it again and again and again, always making the story better from our gruesome tribal perspective. In short, we're deeply dishonest and very lost and we're extremely bad people.
Some people loathe us for this conduct. It's hard to say they're wrong. Beyond that, it's hard to say that a modern continental nation can survive the onslaught of life forms like us.
One final point:
The death of Stephon Clark is important. Within the rules of modern liberal culture, Bijan Ghaisar's death is not.
Dr. King was shot and killed fifty years ago this week. In his entire life and ministry, Dr. King never said a single word which would excuse the kinds of tribalized people we've become.
Stephon Clark counts; so does Bijan Ghaisar. But so do those Sacramento police officers, despite the stew of condescension we happily dump on their heads.
Still coming: No claim left unsaid