Back in 2002, like many other black kids who witnessed Tiger Woods’ reign, I became heavily intrigued with golf. And by intrigued, I mean I was obsessed. Golf Digest was my personal bible. I became Bagger Vance at a local country club just so I play free rounds (and make a lot of tax-free cash money). Instead of watching 106 & Park after school like many of my high school friends, I was studying slow-motion swing videos courtesy of the Golf Channel. While other black boys growing up in Detroit were emulating Michael Jordan’s fade away, I was trying to master the trick shots I’d seen in Nike golf commercials.
I dedicated every ounce of available free time to practicing. But since I didn’t live near a country club or a public golf course, majority of my practice took place within the confines of my backyard. On most nights I would split time putting on a 10 foot mat and hitting plastic, shallow golf balls into a net until my hands grew sore. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be out well past midnight trying to hone my craft.
Sometimes errant shots would miss the net entirely, ultimately landing in neighboring yards, in which case I would quickly jump a fence, retrieve the imitation golf balls, retreat to my yard, and resume practice. I did so because I thought if I dedicated enough time I too would become a mainstay on the PGA Tour. I was comfortable swinging a piece of metal in darkness because I felt safe within the confines of my backyard. The only thing in any danger on nights like this were the many blades of grass I hacked up, much to my father’s disappointment and rage.
So yesterday morning when I read that two Sacramento police officers killed Stephon Clark—an unarmed, 22 year-old, black father of two—then subsequently watched the video footage released by the police department, my immediate thought was, “Damn, that could have been me.”
Because in that moment, it’s not difficult to imagine hitting golf balls in the middle of the night—an act that is neither criminal nor threatening—and a neighbor calling the police because they mistook my retrieval of stray golf balls as someone breaking into or vandalizing cars. And if the police failed to identify themselves, and ran up on me screaming with guns drawn, I would have instinctively ran behind my detached garage. And because a golf club looks more like a gun than a white cell phone, I would undoubtedly be dead.
I don’t know what Stephon was doing on that fateful night. I doubt he was practicing his golf swing. Maybe he was trying to clear his head. Maybe he was just getting home. We’ll never know because the police frantically murdered him. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to think that he wasn’t engaging in illegal activity.
What I do know is that whatever he was doing wasn’t enough to warrant an immediate execution.
I also know that we’re running out ways to displace blame to the unfortunate victims of police brutality. We’re running out of ways to falsely justify the use of deadly force. And we’re running out of strategies, and actions that we as black people can employ to avoid being another murder victim at the hands of the police.
Which makes Clark’s death, and other state-sponsored executions of unarmed black people so horrifying. Because each time there’s a Stephon Clark, a Philando Castile, a John Crawford, a Walter Scott, a Mike Brown, a Tamir Rice, an Oscar Grant, a Jordan Edwards, or a Rekia Boyd, there’s another black person somewhere logically, fearfully thinking, “Damn, that could’ve been me.”