It’s among the most troubling 10 minutes of video you might ever see. The outcome is already established, which gives it the demeanor of a dreadful countdown.
It’s only been about two weeks since Marion police were called to the scene of a youth services center where 16-year-old Aries Clark was reported for brandishing a pistol. Despite constant pleading and begging from officers to put down his gun, the teen raised his weapon and was shot. He died the next day.
Originally, details were scant as officials investigated the incident. Clark’s family members were faced not only with sudden devastating loss, but also the uncertainty of how and why it happened. Tensions ran so high that the teenager’s funeral was cut short by a brawl.
Accusations were hurled without restraint, of course, as they always are with any politically charged situation—and interracial police shootings with black victims top that list.
Before she had seen any of the incident footage, Clark’s family attorney promptly called the shooting “unlawful.” This week Arkansas District Attorney Scott Ellington ruled otherwise, and released body-cam recordings as evidence that the police officers were justified in their actions.
The videos tell a tragic story. They also deliver all the missing details.
The camera of one of the officers who fired the fatal shots clearly shows Clark holding a handgun at his side when police arrive. It’s evident from the onset that Clark is not going to obey the officers’ commands.
This is the opening transcript of the officer’s conversation, with the video time sequence in parentheses:
“Come on man, just drop it for me. (:03)
“Drop the gun. (:04)
“Drop the gun! (:05)
“Drop the gun!! (:07)
“Drop it. (:08)
“Drop the gun. (:09)
“Drop the gun. (:11)
“Drop it, man.” ( :12)
In the first 10 seconds, the officer tells Clark to drop his gun eight times. Inexplicably, Clark is defiant in his refusal.
Within the first 20 seconds, the officer is imploring the teenager to cooperate.
He reminds Clark that the two know each other, asking if Clark remembers him (the officer) giving Clark a ride a couple of weeks ago. The officer assures Clark he’s there to help.
Indeed, accompanying the continuous refrain of “drop the gun” is a chorus of beseeching support: “We’re here to help you.”
When Clark moves ominously toward the officer after about a minute, the audio isn’t completely legible, but it sounds like the teenager is saying, “Do it.”
The officer responds “No, I don’t want to.”
“Do it,” Clark appears to say at least twice more.
Video footage is a visual chronicle of events, but it’s a blank screen when it comes to what’s going on inside people’s heads. All teenagers battle emotional angst; as adults later they recognize adolescent tunnel vision for its short-sightedness.
But when the degree of emotional distress advances to behavior inviting self-destruction, and we see the path unfold as on this video, it’s doubly heart-wrenching. That’s partly because as adult observers, we’re fully cognizant of how avoidable it all could be.
At the same time, while we can hear the officers on the video and see them taking cover, most of us can never fully realize the gravity of the situation they were in.
I’ve been around guns my whole life, and I wholly understand them to be lethal weapons. But I’ve never been in physical proximity to a deadly firearm in the hands of someone who also had deadly thoughts in their mind. Every move at that point becomes a calculated risk, with unpredictability as a standard, and life-and-death consequences at stake.
Police aren’t trained to solve humanity’s problems, and never claim to be. Their training is specific to their job as law enforcement officers, charged with protecting society.
They know that it takes only a split second to raise and fire a gun. Police have often seen firsthand the damage bullets do to human bodies. That doesn’t make them afraid; it makes them aware. Accordingly, they treat armed suspects who refuse to comply with orders to disarm as threats until neutralized.
Even so, after about nine minutes, the officers surrounding Clark were trying to figure out how to get close enough to disarm him.
Sadly, just seconds after one policeman is heard on his body cam telling another that he thinks he can “get on him quick enough,” and starts to move around to Clark’s side, that’s when the teenager lifts and aims his gun.
Only after firing their weapons and approaching the fallen teen did officers discover that the gun in Clark’s hand was a pellet pistol.
Suicidal activity among teens has been called a “silent epidemic.” The Jason Foundation reports upwards of 5,000 suicide attempts on average every day in America by young people in grades 7-12. More than 100 are successful every week.
The root of the tragedy in Marion will be ignored by political agenda activists who seek to exploit such tragedies rather than solve them.
While fingers are pointed in distraction, perhaps Aries Clark’s publicity can bring needed focus to teenage mental health as a pressing issue.