Yesterday I watched the wake of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man that was murdered by the Sacramento Police on March 18, 2018. I remember the moment that I heard the news that another Black man had been “new age lynched,” and my heart broke. Right in the middle of an uprising for gun control and “marching for our lives,” I wondered if Stephon’s life was included in these newfound cries for justice? While many people are championing a new day for gun control and commandeering slogans from Black Ferguson youth such, “Don’t Shoot” after the murder of Mike Brown, it seems the murder of White youth and the murder of Black youth are being handled very differently.
As I watched the wake, the liturgical dancers, moved in unison as Stevante Clark, Stephon’s brother, leaned over Stephon’s casket.
They danced to Tamela Mann’s award-winning song, Take Me To The King.
Truth is I’m tired
Options are few
I’m trying to pray
But where are you?
I’m all churched out
Hurt and abused
I can’t fake
What’s left to do?
This song choice resonated with me because the truth is I’m tired. My options for any form of justice for Black people seem few. I’ve tried to pray, and every day I ask God, where are you? Do you see what is happening? Do you care? As I watched the funeral with tears streaming down my face, I just screamed, “Why? Why God?” I do not understand why Black people must continue to suffer under the weight of oppression. How many deaths will it take before the nation pauses to hear our cries and does something to change the trajectory of Black life in America?
As I share my thoughts on Twitter regarding Stephon’s murder, inevitably someone comes along and tells me that Stephon deserved to die. That Stephon deserved to be shot at 20 times in the backyard of his grandmother’s house. What many people do not understand is that every time I hear about the murder of another Black person at the hands of the police, it is as if someone close to me has died. Because as a Black person I inherently know that Stephon could easily be my brother, my son, my uncle, or my friend. I feel like I have been to dozens of funerals. Buried children I have never birthed. Mourned the deaths of Black people I have never met. I carry them all with me in a spot in my heart, a place I keep buried underneath my cries of no justice no peace. But there are days I cannot hold back the tears, and I go in my room, alone and cry, quickly wiping away the tears because there is never time to grieve. Black people are not allowed to grieve. Black people who have suffered injustice must set aside our grief and immediately start a press tour trying to make the world see our humanity. Trying to prove that we are worthy of sympathy and compassion.
A 22-year-old Black man, a father of two, seemingly in a committed and loving relationship, seems to be the “perfect” victim. And as Black people fighting for justice, we want to believe, maybe this time. Maybe this time, Stephon is a Black man the nation will rally around and demand police reform. Maybe this time will be the time that this nation sees the injustice that happens to Black people. They didn’t see it with Trayvon, a 15-year-old boy murdered while walking home after buying Skittles and tea murdered by a neighborhood watch vigilante. They didn’t see it with Tamir, a 12-year-old boy that was playing with a toy gun on a playground, murdered by the police in mere minutes. They didn’t see it with Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman that was merely trying to move on to a better life, found dead in a jail cell. They didn’t see it with Aiyana Stanley Jones, a 7-year-old girl that was innocently sleeping on her grandmother’s couch when she was shot in the head by the police.
But maybe this time, this will be the “right” victim. Because “right” is how this world likes its victims. We like our victims pristine and pure. This world likes for its victims to be innocent, never posting a tweet written in poor taste or photographed in an Instagram picture with suspect surroundings. We like our victims to be good so that we can give our compassion and understanding freely. This is a quid pro quo relationship.
So I was not surprised when today tweets that Stephon Clark wrote that were disparaging to Black women were posted online. I was immediately reminded of Malcolm X’s quote, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Many people misquote Malcolm X and say, “The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman.” But Malcolm X did not say that. He said the most disrespected PERSON in America is the Black woman.
Black women have always stood on the front lines, often at the expense of ourselves. Black women have stood in the gap for many groups that will never stand up for us. Black women have mourned the deaths of Black men that will never shed a tear for us. Black women have laughed when all we wanted to do was cry. Black women have carried a nation on our shoulders. Black women have done it all with not so much as a whispered thank you, not always because we want to but because we have to.
When I read Stephon’s comments and the subsequent comments of his girlfriend, I wondered had this been me, would they have stood up for me? Had my daughter been murdered, would they be in the streets screaming for justice? If this had been a Black woman murdered by the police in Sacramento, would they be screaming for policy changes for Black people?
Here we have a Black man that from his tweets seems to dislike Black women.
But here Black women are, standing in the gap.
I wanted to be upset. I wanted to be mad. I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Let them march for you. Since your girlfriend seems to find it funny that you disparage Black women, have her and her friends, stand up for you.”
But my soul couldn’t do that. My conscience wouldn’t let me be at ease. One thing I have learned is that once someone dies, you cannot add nor take anything away from the life they have led.
Stephon was not perfect. Stephon is a product of a nation that has told him everything Black is wrong and everything not Black is right. And perhaps at 22, he had not gotten past the self-hate that so many of us must learn to overcome as we mature and step into the fullness and greatness of being Black.
Stephon has now, to some, become an inconvenient victim.
What Stephon wrote was not nice. As a Black woman, it did not make me feel good. But I do not have the luxury of choosing the “right” victim. I have decided to fight for justice by any means necessary, even when the victim isn’t convenient. Autopsy reports state that Stephon was shot in his back six times and I don’t care what he said in a tweet, Stephon was murdered by the police. And that is the issue that needs to be addressed. And that will be my focus.
Having said that, I will say, if I can say anything to Stephon’s girlfriend, I would ask her to rethink her tweets and know that Black women were never the enemy. Black women are standing in the gap for the father of her children. Black women are putting their bodies on the line in the face of opposition for Stephon. Black women are fighting so that her two children can live in a world where as Dr. King said, “They are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Black women are mourning the death of Stephon because symbolically Stephon is our sons, our daughters, our fathers, our mothers…us. Remember that, meditate on that, own that before you laugh and tweet about Black women being “too mean” as you raise two Black children in America. Black women are fighting and standing so that your children will be able to soar.