Actions have consequences. How many times have we heard that when we were growing up? And how many times, as a child—or a young adult—have we felt the consequences that we had to bear were too severe for the “crime” we committed? (I use the word “crime” loosely here, meaning whatever infraction of the rules we might have been guilty of, but it is also accurately used when it comes to those behaviors that in and of themselves are actually crimes.)
I have addressed this issue before when such a situation came to light in the news. Let’s say there was a car accident and the driver of the car was killed. It could have been a young person who was on his way to his prom or it could have been the mother of several children or a hard-working man who was the sole support of his family. It shouldn’t matter (on that score) who died in that accident; all such deaths are devastating to the family and friends of the deceased.
Yet while they report on the tragedy of the accident—and might even expound on the fact that the young man never got to see how lovely his prom date looked; or how tragic it is for three young children to lose their mother, or how the man’s family is left without a means of support—they seldom if ever elaborate on the most important part of the “story”: why it happened. Perhaps it was speeding, or perhaps it was alcohol, or perhaps inattention. We always use the word “accident,” but often it is really the consequences of one’s own actions that led to the so-called accident.
And while tragedy and sadness are in the air, and no one wants to add to the family’s sorrow, or to the devastation of the deceased person’s friends — or even perhaps to the devastation of the public at large, if the one who died in the “accident” was a well-known entertainer or famous person of some note — the lesson of the “accident” gets lost in the tragedy.
Can anyone remember one or both of their parents telling them, as they were growing up, that if they didn’t follow the rules — such as cleaning their rooms, getting home on time, not getting any speeding or traffic tickets — that there would be consequences? Those of us who were fortunate enough to have parents who followed through with those “threats” of which we were warned, learned a valuable lesson: actions do have consequences!
When we went out on our own, we did not have our parents around to remind us — or threaten us with the consequences of our actions — if we failed to do the right thing or refrain from doing the wrong thing.
What happened then is that either we got away with our infractions of the law, or we got caught by what I’ll refer to as the substitutes for our parents — the police. If we’ve never been in trouble with the police before, we may get away with just a fine or a warning, depending on what the infraction of the rule was. But again, if we’re lucky, we will not get off too easy if we’re prone to being careless and/or irresponsible in such a way that may someday lead to our
undoing or our death.
We’ve all seen movies where a parent (usually a father) takes the side of his son and argues with the police that he’s really a good boy and somehow manages to talk the police out of making a bigger deal out of the situation, only to later find out that the son continued in his irresponsible ways and now is dead.
So what does this have to do with today? Well, last year there was an “unnecessary” killing of a black man by the name of Stephen Clark. He was shot by two policemen, and as it turned out, he did not have a weapon—at least not in his hand.
As the report read, Clark was shot and killed March 18; the two officers were responding to a report of somebody breaking car windows. Police said they believed Clark was the suspect, and that he ran when a police helicopter responded and he failed to obey officers’ orders.
Police said they thought Clark was holding a gun when he moved toward them with his arms extended and an object in his hands. He was later found to only have a cellphone on him.
Now, what does that have to do with the topic of consequences? We’d really have to be simple-minded not to see that it doesn’t always matter what the reality of the situation is; what matters is how it appears to be in the eyes of the police.
Even if Stephen Clark was not the one breaking the car windows, he ran — so couple that with his already being the suspect, and you can see how the police were now on the alert to his being the perpetrator.
Then couple that with the fact that cellphones are often mistaken for guns (that has come up many times before), especially in the hands of a fleeing suspect, and we have the perfect storm for a possible shooting.
Who are we to say—as much as family and friends of Stephon Clark would wholeheartedly say—that the shooting of Clark was not warranted due to the cops feeling a threat to their lives?
Now let’s go back to an earlier time in Stephen’s life. Did he ever do anything that could be considered an infraction of the law and got away with it? Since I do not know, I am not accusing him; yet, generally speaking, a grown man and one who has a fiance as well doesn’t generally break car windows and then run from the police. If Stephon was never a problem child, and never got away without paying the consequences for his infractions of any rules, we can all feel
that his killing was a horrible mistake, a horrible thing, and that the circumstances in which he found himself—being in the vicinity of the crime of the broken car windows, and running away from the police—were just that: a set of unfortunate circumstances.
Just so I won’t be accused of casting aspersions on Stephon, a man I did not know at all, I am simply using his situation as a very real example of how things can get out of hand whether one is guilty or not. We live in a time when crime and its consequences are more prominent than they were fifty years ago. Not only do we have to warn our children of consequences while they are still home with us, but we also have to warn them about how things are “out there in the real world.” We have to paint them a vivid picture of the kind of things that could go wrong if we do anything that IS wrong or even LOOKS wrong in the eyes of the police. If Stephon was 100 percent innocent, we would all feel for his family and understand their outrage.
According to the report of this tragedy, Clark’s family, including his two sons, his parents, and his grandparents, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in January seeking more than $20 million from the city, Mercadal and Robinet (the two policemen involved in the shooting, one of whom was white and the other black). The suit alleges that the use of force was excessive and that Clark was a victim of racial profiling. (It is easy to see why they might feel that way, but not
being there, they couldn’t really know the officers’ sense of danger or the reason their loved one was assumed to be the perpetrator of the
crime that set that killing in motion.
Would they still feel the same knowing that Stephon was the perpetrator and put himself into those deadly circumstances? Or would they finally come to admit that—horrible tragedy that it was—maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to the advice of not doing anything wrong or anything that even looks wrong. Actions, even if one is innocent, has consequences.
Maramis Choufani is Managing Editor of Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at