By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
Sacramento Police have instituted a new foot pursuit policy stemming from the fatal shooting of unarmed, Stephon Clark, a young Black man.
The policy, effective July 26, mandates officers assess and evaluate risks to safety for themselves, the public, and fleeing suspects when determining whether a foot pursuit should be initiated, continued, or stopped. If pursuing officers or supervisors determine the risks outweigh the need for arrests, then the foot pursuits should be terminated.
Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet fired 20 shots at Mr. Clark, a 23-year-old father of two after chasing him through his neighborhood and into his grandparents’ yard. Police said they were responding to a 911 call that someone was breaking into cars.
Officers bullets struck Mr. Clark eight times, all from behind, according to Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist hired by family attorneys to perform an independent autopsy.
Police said they believed Mr. Clark was pointing a firearm at them and feared for their safety the evening of March 18. Police claimed he had a toolbar. He was found with just a cell phone near his body. His death sparked protests and unrest in Sacramento and other cities.
The new foot pursuit policy is receiving mixed reviews.
“It’s a small measure of justice, however we have much further to go to try to prevent future tragic killings of unarmed Black men carrying cell phones,” stated national civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of Stephon Clark.
Officers initiating a foot pursuit must activate their body cameras, broadcast their unit ID, and state that a foot chase has been started. They must share their location, direction of travel, number of suspects, any descriptions, whether suspects have weapons, and why police are giving chasing. They must also identify themselves as police officers and order suspects to stop.
The new policy says officers won’t be disciplined or penalized for not initiating, engaging in, or terminating a foot pursuit if they feel the risk of pursuing outweighs the need for apprehension.
The Final Call’s request for an interview with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn was not answered. However, the Sacramento Police Department Media Unit responded via email: “Prior to this policy going into effect there was no written foot pursuit policy, now there is a written order to give officers guidance when engaging in a foot pursuit.”
In interviews with various local news outlets, Chief Hahn said he doesn’t know if the new policy would have changed anything the night Stephon Clark died, but the investigation is still ongoing.
“What good is a policy with no repercussions for violating it? It’s all symbolic,” posted Black Lives Matter Sacramento on the group’s Facebook Page.
The group posted that the policy lacks enough grit to change the fact that race is a motivating factor when officers chase down suspects.
“We can’t stress enough this policy is like putting a bandage on a wound requiring surgery. Many cops with @SacPolice are often too lazy to use this kind of care. Shooting first and asking questions later is their comfort zone of control. Truth be told, the foundation of law enforcement is the problem, not whether or not to chase,” Black Lives Matter Sacramento posted on Twitter and Facebook in response to the policy.
Activists held a “Let’s Go See the D.A.” protest Aug. 15 at the district attorney’s office demanding that District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert press charges against the officers who shot Mr. Clark.
“Day 139 Since Stephon was Murdered. Still No Charges!” read their flyer promoting the event. Black Lives Matter has been demonstrating with the actions dubbed “Free BBQ at the D.A.’s” since March, right after the shooting.
The group confronted Terrence Mercadal, one of the officers who shot Mr. Clark by crashing his wedding and posted video from the disruption on its Facebook page.
“We’re not violent, and we’re not going to hurt anybody, but we are going to make them uncomfortable, and they should be uncomfortable, because somebody is dead,” Tanya Faison, Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder, told a CBS reporter.
Ms. Faison said protestors, seen questioning the cop and his groomsmen seated around a table in the video, did not go too far, and that Mr. Mercadal would remember the day for the rest of his life.
“Stephon Clark’s family is still mourning and suffering. He doesn’t get to be with his kids anymore. He doesn’t get to live his life or get married,” Ms. Faison said.