Rutgers student organizations hold vigil for Stephon Clark
Remembrance, community and coming together were among the many topics discussed on the steps of Brower Commons yesterday. Following the police shooting of an unarmed man last month, organizations on campus came together for a candlelight vigil.
On March 18, Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man and father of two, was shot by police in Sacramento, California after reports of a man breaking and entering into vehicles led officers to the male suspect, 6'1", thin, wearing a black hoodie and dark pants, according to a press release from the Sacramento Police Department (SPD).
Hamzah Almadani, a School of Engineering senior and member of the Muslim Public Relations Council, was involved with organizing and gathering people to the event. He said that many groups on campus were supportive of putting together the vigil and that its goal was to raise awareness and show people standing together.
“At the end of the day, we just want people to know that we’re all one community. We’re all humans, and we’re all one community at the end of the day. We have to stand together,” Almadani said.
The event was co-sponsored by various student organizations, including Muslim Public Relations Council, the Rutgers chapter of Black Lives Matter and UndocuRutgers, among many more, according to the event’s Facebook page.
He said that the vigil would remember the names of the many people, including Clark, who died as a result of police shootings.
The gathering started with a discussion and then speeches from members of the various student groups in attendance. People were invited to talk and air their grievances. Students and community members discussed coming together, remembering and moving forward together, as well as what Rutgers could do better to address diversity and inclusion.
Following that was a moment of silence.
Tamaj Nicholson, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and president of the Rutgers chapter of Black Lives Matter, spoke at the vigil.
“Today’s really important, because these deaths have been occurring for a very long time,” Nicholson said. “Even in 2018 they’ve just been kind of overshadowed, this is one of the first that has gained mainstream attention in a long time, and I think it’s really important that we all come out, because we haven’t forgotten that these murders are still happening.”
He said the biggest takeaway from the vigil is not to lose hope, to stand together and to push for a better tomorrow.
Prior to the shooting, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department’s helicopter (STAR) reported to the scene, according to the release. After scanning the area, STAR directed SPD officers to an individual standing in his backyard. It observed the suspect pick up a toolbar and break a window to a residence.
STAR continued to communicate the suspect’s location with SPD, as he was seen peering into other vehicles. It then guided SPD to the suspect in the rear yard of a residence on the 7500 block of 29th Street, according to the release.
Once officers entered the yard, they issued commands for the suspect to cease and desist. He then fled from the officers and ran toward the back of the house. Officers pursued the suspect into the backyard of his residence, when the suspect then advanced toward officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him.
“The officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons striking the suspect multiple times. The involved officers held their position for approximately 5 minutes, until additional officers arrived. Officers approached the suspect, handcuffed him and began life-saving efforts,” according to the release.
At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them but scene investigators did not locate any firearms. The only item found near him was a cell phone.
Clark was pronounced deceased at the scene by fire personnel.
Following an autopsy commissioned by Clark’s family, an article from The New York Times reported that he was shot three times in the lower back, twice near the right shoulder, once in his neck and once under his armpit. Clark was also shot in his leg.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the private medical examiner who delivered the autopsy, said that while the shot to Clark’s leg was in the front, it appeared to have been fired after he was already falling, according to the article.
In the weeks following the shooting, protesters have taken to streets all across California’s capital since Clark was killed, according to an article from NPR. Protesters are calling for the city’s leadership to fire the two officers involved in the incident.
“There’s a lot I would like to see moving forward,” Nicholson said. “But immediately just continuous work as a community, standing together, recognizing one and another’s existence and just trying to make the world a little better for each other.”