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Police officers avoid charges in two different shootings of unarmed black men

The cases out of Sacramento and Tulsa join a litany of racial injustices.

Demonstrators protesting outside the Sacramento Police Department on Saturday after learning that the officers who shot Stephon Clark would not be charged. CREDIT: Mason Trinca/Getty Images
Demonstrators protesting outside the Sacramento Police Department on Saturday after learning that the officers who shot Stephon Clark would not be charged. CREDIT: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

This weekend brought news that police officers involved in two different fatal shootings of unarmed black men will not face charges related to those killings.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Saturday that two officers who shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard will not face criminal prosecution.

“Was a crime committed? There’s no question that a human being died,” Schubert said. “But when we look at the facts and the law, and we follow our ethical responsibilities, the answer to that question is no. And as a result, we will not charge these officers.”

Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet responded to a vandalism complaint last March. After a brief pursuit, they turned a blind corner without announcing themselves and fired their weapons 20 times, hitting Clark at least seven times.

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According to an analysis by The New York Times, six of the shots likely hit Clark as he was falling or already on the ground. Though the police claim they believed he was pointing a gun at them, Clark was unarmed and his cellphone was found under his body. Six minutes passed before police offered any medical support.

The investigation into Clark’s death was rife with contradictions and suspicion. An autopsy report contradicted one of the officer’s claims that Clark had moved toward them. Additional videos also showed that officers muted their bodycams in the wake of the shooting, so that the public couldn’t hear them discussing what had happened.

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board responded to the news there would be no charges by calling for the passage of Assembly Bill 392, which would limit justifications for using deadly force — which at present are incredibly broad.

The police had shouted “Show me your hands!” as Clark was already dying of his wounds. “How is a man with seven bullets in his body supposed to comply with such a command?” the board wrote. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Clark’s fiancée and the mother of his two children, Salena Manni, said the announcement continued “”a shameful legacy of officers killing black men without consequences” and broke her “family’s hearts again.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that a former police office from Tulsa, Oklahoma would not face federal civil rights charges for similarly killing an unarmed black man. There was not enough evidence to prove her use of foce was “objectively unreasonable.”

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Betty Shelby killed Terence Crutcher in 2016 in what she claimed was self-defense because she believed he was reaching into his car for a weapon. Crutcher had been holding up his hands and had no gun on either his person or in his vehicle.

Shelby had previously been acquitted on manslaughter charges and resigned from her position. Crutcher’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2017 that they hope will “show that Terence’s civil rights were indeed violated when she shot him with his hands up in the air,” according to their lawyer.

Many took to social media this weekend to grieve the injustices in both cases:

Sunday also marks the 28th anniversary of four Los Angeles police officers violently beating the activist Rodney King.

Those officers’ acquittal the following year sparked the six-day Los Angeles Riots, during which 63 people were killed and 2,373 were injured. Decades later, use of excessive force against African-American individuals continues to occur without consequences for the officers involved.