When they murdered Stephon, they lit a fire

April 2, 2018

Alex Moyle reports from Sacramento on the police murder of Stephon Clark and the reverberations of this barbaric act in the city and around the country.

SACRAMENTO HAS erupted in protest after police gunned down Stephon Alonzo Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, in his grandmother's backyard in the Meadowview neighborhood on March 18.

Police fired at least 20 shots at Clark--known to his friends as Zoe--striking him eight times.

The cold-blooded murder of an unarmed Black man brought people out for a series of powerful protests, from City Hall to the Kings basketball arena, to say his name: Stephon Clark.

The Sac PD has a long history of brutality, including several recent deadly shootings of African American men. The cops scrambled to get their story straight after Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet killed Stephon. Police released conflicting stories, asserting first that Clark had a gun and then a "toolbar"--until they admitted that all he had was a cell phone.

The SPD was required to release footage of the incident within 30 days of the shooting because of measures demanded by Black Lives Matter Sacramento and other community activists in response to a police attempt to cover up the police murder of Joseph Mann in 2016.

Protesters hit the streets of Sacramento to demand justice for Stephon Clark
Protesters hit the streets of Sacramento to demand justice for Stephon Clark (Black Lives Matter Sacramento | Facebook)

The body-camera footage released in the Clark case clearly demonstrates that both officers opened fire on Clark immediately after making contact with him, without identifying themselves and firing at least 20 shots. They then waited for more than five minutes before anyone approached Clark to render aid because they supposedly felt he was still a threat.

An independent autopsy performed by Dr. Bennet Omalu has since confirmed that Clark was shot six times in the back and eight times in total, and that he died while police waited and did nothing. Both officers muted their body cameras shortly after the killing, presumably to get their stories straight off the record.

ON MARCH 22, Black Lives Matter and the family and friends of Stephon Clark led a remarkable series of protests in downtown Sacramento, drawing national attention to his killing.

The protests started at City Hall, where hundreds stormed into the building, chanting Clark's name and demanding accountability. From there, protesters marched to block the northbound lanes of I-5, bringing traffic to a standstill on one of thee most heavily used freeways in the area at rush hour.

The march then continued off the freeway and into the middle of downtown to the Golden 1 Center where the Atlanta Hawks were in town to play the Sacramento Kings. After rallying at the back of the arena, protesters moved to block the entrances of the stadium.

Protesters spread out and took up positions at all of the entrances, locking arms and chanting Stephon Clark's name, "Black Lives Matter" and "shot 20 times."

There were some scuffles and plenty of heated arguments between protesters and Kings fans, with a lot of angry white racists showing their true colors. But there was also a lot of productive conversations and engagement.

Many Kings fans were sympathetic. One protester at the main entrance passionately urged the Kings fans in attendance to join in blocking the entrance, and to chant Stephon's name, and some did.

Around the periphery where Kings fans mingled with protesters, countless conversations took place on the meaning and purpose of this protest and of protest in general.

The main theme that came up again and again from protesters was that this was bigger than basketball--that people ought to be more angry about the Sac PD murdering Stephon Clark than about this inconvenience.

KINGS PLAYERS immediately made statements in support of the protests, including Kings guard Garrett Temple who said he supports the demonstrations 100 percent, and that if he didn't have to play, he "would probably be out there with them."

At the close of the game, Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé addressed the small crowd inside with the team and front office staff, expressing sympathy for Clark's family and saying: "We recognize that it is not just business as usual and we are going work really hard...to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again."

Of the more than 17,000 tickets sold, fewer than 2,000 people made it into the building. Those inside reported a surreal spectacle of an NBA game played before a virtually empty stadium.

At the following Kings game against the Boston Celtics, players from both teams wore warm-up shirts reading "Accountability. We are one. #StephonClark." A video announcement was broadcast, with players demanding accountability, saying Clark's name and refusing to "shut up and dribble," as one said--a reference to Fox News blowhard Laura Ingraham's recent comments against LeBron James.

The actions of the Sacramento Kings organization and players following the shutdown of Golden 1 Center are a remarkable testament to the power of protest, the power of sports in the political realm, and the profound impact of protests by NFL athletes led by Colin Kaepernick against police brutality over the course of the last two seasons.

This act of defiance amplified Stephon Clark's story in a way that no other venue in the city possibly could have. It spread Stephon's name and story nationwide, resulting in solidarity protests in Arizona, Boston, New York and elsewhere.

This caught the attention of former Kings players Demarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes, who reached out to the Clark family, offering to pay for Stephon's funeral. The Kings have now announced a partnership with Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Build. Black. Coalition to invest in Black communities.

The city has had to pay attention, helping to ensure that protests--which have continued daily ever since--would continue to put pressure on local officials.

ON MARCH 27--the same day that authorities in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, announced that no charges would be filed against the two police officers who murdered Alton Sterling on video--Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn stated that the California Department of Justice would provide independent oversight of the investigation into the shooting and review the training of Sacramento police and policies on the use of force.

Hahn is Sacramento's first Black chief of police and was appointed shortly after Chief Sam Somers was nudged into early retirement as part of the fallout over the police murder of Joseph Mann and the blatant lies told by his department to cover it up.

Hahn's appointment was heralded as a new era of accountability, transparency and positive relations with the community, but that premise is being put to the test.

The Sacramento City Council scheduled a meeting, also for March 27, with plans for the session to continue until 11 p.m. to hear all community perspectives on the killing.

The City Council chambers and hundreds outside erupted in cries of defiance when Stephon Clark's brother Stevante came forward and, chanting his brother's name, seated himself atop Mayor Darrel Steinberg's podium, urging the crowd to chant even louder.

Outside the council chambers, he told all those listening, "The mayor and city of Sacramento have failed you all." Hundreds of protesters entered the outer chambers of City Hall chanting Stephon's name. A portion of protesters later broke off to block entry to the Kings game against the Dallas Mavericks, once again shutting down the Golden 1 Center.

Inside the council chambers, Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison reprimanded Chief Hahn and the City Council for demanding that protests be "civil":

We shouldn't be telling people how to mourn and how to be traumatized. We should be providing help for people. We've been coming to you for the last two years talking about this. We don't get anything from you...Everything is falling on us. Everything is falling on our communities...And then on top of this, you're killing us...It feels like genocide.

Pastor Efrem Smith told the council,

I grew up in a city and in a neighborhood where grandma's backyard was a sacred place. I could play in grandma's yard. I could learn in grandma's yard...But I never ever thought I would die in my grandma's backyard.

The demonstrations for justice for Stephon Clark are occurring immediately after the nationwide protests against gun violence, and one connection that hasn't been lost on protesters is that police shootings like the murder of Stephon Clark are gun violence. Any genuine call to confront this violence must include the demand to disarm the police.

PROTESTS WILL continue at City Hall and the district attorney's office. District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has had a bloody tenure since she took the job in 2015, including clearing the police who killed Dazion Flenaugh and Joseph Mann.

Both the department's internal affairs division and the district attorney in Sacramento--as is the case in many places around the nation-- have traditionally been rubber stamps on police shootings and brutality, no matter how blatant and well-documented.

The tension throughout the city is palpable as people await the findings of the investigations and the district attorney's announcement.

It is a tension that has been growing for some time--the Black community in Sacramento has endured years of police violence and harassment, along with skyrocketing rents, gentrification and displacement. As Barry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth told the City Council last week, "Sacramento is just like Ferguson."

But Black resistance has also been steadily growing and organizing over the last two years.

The continuous protests in the wake of the killing of Stephon Clark are sending a message to the city, the Sac PD and state officials that it will not be business as usual--that there will be real consequences if there is no justice for Stephon Clark.

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