In an article I wrote about the harms of jaywalking laws last week, I highlighted the case of Nandi Cain Jr., a black man beaten last year by a Sacramento police officer who had stopped him for crossing a street outside of a crosswalk. An investigation by The Sacramento Bee later found that the city’s black residents are five times more likely to be cited for jaywalking than other members of the community.
Cain ultimately survived his encounter with the police. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man also from Sacramento, did not. Two police officers fatally shot him in his backyard on Sunday night while investigating reports of a man breaking car windows. Police initially told the Bee that Clark approached the officers while holding an “object,” which at first they said was a “tool bar” they had mistaken for a gun. Police later said that Clark was carrying a cell phone.
Body-cam footage released on Wednesday night shows only a brief encounter between Clark and the officers before they opened fire on him. The two officers yelled “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and “Show me your hands!” before firing 20 shots. (There was no gun.) The nighttime footage doesn’t show what Clark was doing when police opened fire. Helicopter footage, which only captured part of the encounter, shows Clark staggering forward while the officers shoot at him before he collapses to the ground.
There’s a connection between overpolicing—excessive low-level enforcement—and the rates of police shootings. Research shows that police officers are disproportionately likely to use force against black Americans. Communities of color are also more likely to be overpoliced, raising the overall number of encounters between black Americans and police officers. The confluence of those two forces can have tragic results. For Nandi Cain Jr., it was a beating. For Stephon Clark, it was his life.