The neighborhood church is at it again. Posting a message on its message board that doesn’t make any sense to a fire-breathing heathen like me. Here is this week’s message: Hell has no exits, Heaven needs more.
Am I missing something? If Heaven is all it’s cracked up to be why would anybody want to leave? Why, in other words, would it need any exits, let alone more?
It is not Facebook’s fault. It is yours and mine. I have no read a huge amount about the Cambridge Analytics controversy, but as I understand it they are one of the companies behind all those inane quizzes you can take on Facebook and other social media outlets. Like What Kind of Dog Would You Be if You Lived on Mars.
Cambridge used those quizzes to mine users data. And every person who took one of those quizzes knew they were doing it. What? Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. Every single one of those quizzes starts with a message … that the company behind the quiz will be accessing your Facebook data. Every single one of them does this and you have to actually click OK to proceed any further.
Yes, that’s right, the millions and millions of Facebook users who got their data mined by Cambridge were warned in advance that it was going to happen.
This was not Facebook’s fault. We have become a generation of sheep. Merrily participating in this vast experiment called the internet, called social media, called purchasing things on-line … without any flipping clue of what is happening behind the wall with our data, with every click of the mouse, and every keystroke that sends a bit of info about us into this vast and wild frontier.
We object to government spying, but have essentially conceded that companies operating on the internet have free rein with our information. They are making billions and billions of dollars on us and we don’t even raise an eyebrow. We just keep clicking away.
So, no, it isn’t Facebook’s fault. It is ours for being the lemmings we are
The Other Thing
In recent years, my community has seen all too many incidents of what appears to be excessive force by police officers on people of color. My personal favorite is the incident a year or two ago when police officers pinned a shirtless man to the ground for five minutes. On the pavement. In the middle of the summer. When it was 100 degrees outside. By the time they let him up, the man had third degree burns covering his entire torso and part of his face.
This week’s incident involved a 22-year-old African-American man. Shot to death by police officers in the backyard of his grandmother’s house — the same place this individual lived. So, I’m going to try to be fair to all sides here. Part of the problem is that it is impossible to know the real truth behind the incident. Both sides ignore inconvenient facts and the media is incapable of reporting everything.
Somewhere around 9:00 p.m., 911 calls were made reporting that somebody was breaking car windows in this neighborhood. There also are reports that somebody tried to break (or did break) a sliding glass door. Some reports state that the door was broken at a house occupied by an elderly Asian man. Some reports state the door was at an unoccupied house. I don’t remember reading anywhere that information about the sliding glass door was relayed to law enforcement before the suspect was shot.
The suspect, by the way, does have a name. Stephon Clark.
In response to the 911 calls, the police department dispatched a helicopter and patrol officers. They have released video from the helicopter and the body cam of one of the patrol officers. Google “Stephon Clark video” if you want to watch the videos.
The officers on the helicopter claim that they observed a subject breaking windows. However, they did not start their video until Clark was jumping a fence from a neighbor’s backyard into his grandmother’s backyard. So, let me stop here for a moment.
To me, that Clark was in somebody else’s backyard suggests he was up to something. Or does it? Maybe they are good friends with that neighbor and he was just hanging out? Maybe when police helicopters are circling some people might have a tendency to try to hide or evade — even though they had done nothing wrong. Maybe all he was doing was trying to get back in the safety of his home because helicopters are hovering and who knows why?
Here are a few other things that have come out since the incident. Clark is not a choir boy. He is 22 years old and has a rap sheet that includes a handful of convictions and no contest pleas for offenses including two domestic violence incidents, a felony assault with a deadly weapon, and a charge of pimping. He is also the father of two children, aged 3 and 1. Clark’s family claims that he was turning his life around and that he was a devoted father.
The police officers who were hunting for a suspect that night knew none of this. They did not know that the man in that backyard was Stephon Clark. What they knew was that somebody had been seen breaking car windows. And here is where some of the confusion sets in.
Various reports have said that the police officers in the helicopter observed him break a window. Initially, there was a report that those police officers thought he had a gun, then that changed to a “tool bar.” But again, unfortunately, there is no video that has been released of what the helicopter officers saw that caused them to pinpoint their search on Clark and start their video as he jumped a fence into his own backyard.
As that fence was being jumped, the two officers on foot were walking down the street near the house Clark lived in. They are patrolling with their guns drawn. The helicopter video shows Clark walking to a car parked along the side of the house and appearing to peer in the window. Some reports have stated that the helicopter officers believe he broke a window in that car. Watching the video there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that he did so.
It is at this point when the officers on foot spy Clark and begin to chase him. At no point do they identify themselves as police officers. They also have lights activated on their guns to illuminate the area in front of them, which means that Clark has no ability to see behind those lights.
Clark runs into the backyard, rounding the corner of the house and goes to the sliding glass door. When the officers get to the corner and see him at the sliding glass door, they yell “show us your hands” several times, then immediately yell “gun” and then immediately open fire. There is no pause, no time to breathe, no time for anything except for the fusillade of 20 bullets that followed.
The gun was a white cellphone.
Clark lays on the ground unmoving for more than five minutes before the officers approach him. It is at this point that the officers discuss using a nonlethal weapon on him in case he is still a threat. It is then that the officers mute their body cams so we can no longer hear what they are saying.
I know two things. First, that I will never know what it is like to grow up black in America. Second, that I will never know what it is like to a police officer in America. That said, there are some fundamental problems with what happened in this incident.
As a result of previous controversial police shootings, the Sacramento Police Department adopted a policy of using non-lethal force first before proceeding to deadly force. In this instance, while the reporting is murky, it is not clear that officers needed to proceed with deadly force. A person breaking car windows is not automatically a physical threat to police officers or members of the public. It also appears that the helicopter officers provided an evolving description of what the man they were observing had in his possession, ultimately concluding it was a “tool bar.”
Given that, I’m not sure why the officers needed to search with their guns drawn, particularly given the department’s emphasis on non-lethal force as a first priority.
Another concern I have is that the officers never identified themselves as police officers. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that there was a police helicopter in the air tracking him. He had to know what was going on. But, still, the men on the ground never identified themselves. Maybe he thought they were the bad guys the police helicopter was looking for?
And the final issue I have is this. “Show us your hands, show us your hands, show us your hands. Gun.” 20 shots later. No break, no hesitation. As near as I can tell, he did what they ordered him to do. He showed them his hands and they blew him away. Only then, five minutes later, did they discuss non-lethal force (I mean seriously, in this horrible tragedy, this is a joke, right?) … and then they mute the mics because they now realized they screwed up. What did they say to each other then?
Nothing will happen to these police officers and I don’t necessarily want anything to happen to them. But this incident paints in stark colors the dire need for something to change in the way police do their work, the way the community responds to them, and how we as a society deal with it.
Over the last couple of days, protests have begun. Thursday night, they shut down a freeway during rush hour for a bit and then they formed a chain around the arena where the Sacramento Kings had a game, denying almost all of the fans the ability to enter the arena and watch the game. Friday evening, a smaller group wandered around downtown Sacramento, harassing drivers and pedestrians, and again attempting to block the freeway.
Something needs to change. They are angry and they have a right to be angry. But there are two things to think about. Police officers have a job to do and they are human — mistakes will be made. And their anger cannot, simply cannot be vented in ways that make it worse. I firmly support the protesters rights to protest and to speak and to highlight these wrongs when they occur. We must have a dialogue and not sweep these things under the rug. But, when the protesters turn violent, when they harass innocent people who are just trying to get home from work, they turn one wrong into multiple wrongs, rather than focusing their energy on how to make this right.
Stephon Clark’s death is a tragedy. Nothing about his life or anything he did that night justify his death. But letting that tragedy give life to more violence and destruction is a dishonor to him and to the other victims of excessive force by law enforcement.