Support is available for students after decision in the Stephon Clark case

When it was announced on March 2 that the police officers who shot Stephon Clark would not be charged, the decision was met with mixed responses.

Clark was a 22-year-old Sacramento man who was shot multiple times after two officers mistook his cellphone for a gun. Counseling Dean Shannon Cooper said this incident has impacted the emotional well-being of black students.

“A young man of 22 years of age and who was a student in Los Rios certainly feels closer to our black students,” Cooper said. “Some students may have known him. To have that close proximity, it creates another level of trauma for our students.”

Cooper, who is also a licensed clinical psychologist, said the creation of fear and uncertainty in students is an aftermath of the Clark shooting. She also said students may wonder if an incident like that could ever happen to them, which then creates a lot of discomfort.  

“That can make it hard to study when you have the burden of wondering if you’re going to be next, because that affects your mental health,” Cooper said. “It can make you feel anxious, it can make you feel depressed, and those are a just a couple of things that can happen to our students.”

A 2018 study published in British medical journal The Lancet found that the death of unarmed black Americans caused by police officers has “significant effects” on the mental health of black Americans.

“Police killings of unarmed black Americans were associated with worse mental health among other black Americans in the general US population,” according to the study.

That can make it hard to study when you have the burden of wondering if you’re going to be next, because that affects your mental health.”

— Shannon Cooper

Sociology Professor Donnisha Lugo also said the decision of the ruling could impact students’ interactions with law enforcement and how that interaction could happen in the community.

“I feel like black students are already on edge when it comes to dealing with law enforcement,” Lugo said. “I think this situation is just more confirmation for them to feel like they can’t trust law enforcement in any interactions.”

Lugo said the decision could make students think that if they ever see or interact with law enforcement, there’s a chance it could be a “life or death situation.”

Chris Adams, a 31-year-old political science major, said he grew up in the neighborhood Clark was shot in, adding that Clark definitely wasn’t the first person to die because of a police officer.  

“You never know what they’re capable of doing,” Adams said.

Los Rios Police Chief Larry Savidge said students should not paint law enforcement with the “same paintbrush.”

“Campus law enforcement and municipal law enforcement are not the same,” Savidge said.

In comparison to municipal law enforcement, Savidge said campus law enforcement operates in a more proactive mode, which means they have the time to try and develop relationships with students and student groups on campus.

“I don’t believe any of the police officers come to work thinking, ‘what can I do wrong?’” Savidge said. “They come here to try and do good things for the students and for everybody else here.”

Lugo said she spent one of her class periods talking about Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s statement about Clark’s case, further adding that discussing situations like this in class gives students a “safe space” to talk about any hurt or pain they may feel about the decision.

“I really think it’s important for us to dialogue and just unpack any feelings that students have about this issue,” Lugo said.

I really think it’s important for us to dialogue and just unpack any feelings that students have about this issue.”

— Donnisha Lugo

Cooper said a crisis counselor is available to students every day and said if a student is feeling anxious, depressed or upset in class, faculty can redirect them to the counseling center.

Additionally, Cooper said the campus provides a mental health counselor as well, but only through a referral by a faculty or staff member.

Cooper said the Behavioral Intervention Team would discuss the situation with the student and then direct them to the mental health counselor if needed and wanted. She said students always have a choice of whether they want counseling or not.

Healing circles were also held for students from March 5 to 7 in the Village, which is located in BS 147A.

Cooper said communities like Umoja Diop Scholars and the African-American Male Educational Network Development club are important for students to have a place to be themselves and have people they can relate to.

“When trauma occurs, a condition that can result from trauma is isolation,” Cooper said. “It’s really important for our black students to be and feel part of a community, however they define that community.”

The Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Library building. In an immediate crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.