Anger flared at a Sacramento, California city council meeting on Tuesday night. On Monday, 84 people were arrested protesting the Sacramento County D.A’s. decided not to charge two police officers in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man. (March 6)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As activists in this capital city get ready to commemorate Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was killed by police a year ago Monday, one salient fact stands out about his supporters’ relationship with law enforcement:
The passage of time has done little to mend their rift.
The Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter plans to hold a memorial for Clark on Monday starting at the Meadowview light rail station, site of a vigil the day after he was gunned down in his grandparents’ backyard as police responded to complaints that he had broken car windows and a neighbor’s sliding glass door.
The group then plans to march in the Meadowview neighborhood where Clark died at 22 and head toward a local park.
The organizers’ coordination with police appears to be zero.
“I’m not working with law enforcement because they have been extremely adversarial,’’ said Sonia Lewis, chapter leader of BLM Sacramento. “They will tell us one thing and make the public believe they are here to protect our protest and that they believe in the right to protest, and then they will turn around and arrest us when the veil of darkness comes upon the city.’’
Local authorities arrested 84 demonstrators on March 4, two days after District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said the officers involved in Clark’s shooting – Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who later said they mistook his cellphone for a gun – would not be charged in the incident because they justifiably feared for their safety.
At least one reporter and three clergymen were among those arrested, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg expressed displeasure with how police handled the situation.
The day after the announcement, a protest at Arden Fair Mall prompted its management to close Sacramento’s largest shopping center for fear a small sit-in would turn into an unruly demonstration and endanger shoppers.
In light of those developments, it’s hard to know what to expect from Monday’s activities, which will culminate a series of memorials dubbed Stephon Clark Legacy Weekend.
“This is a huge day when we want to celebrate his life,’’ Lewis said, “but at the same time continue to lift the fact that law enforcement here is treating certain communities, like Meadowview, as if they are war zones.’’
Public information officer Marcus Basquez of the Sacramento Police Department said authorities are keeping tabs on possible developments through social media but pointed out events that are talked about sometimes don’t materialize.
Police don’t have a way to predict how many protesters will participate, he said.
“We are aware Monday is the one-year anniversary, so we may have additional (personnel) standing by,’’ he said. “But a lot can change between now and Monday. We just continue to monitor. There’s nothing set in stone on what we’re going to do.’’
Basquez said his department stays in touch with community leaders, among them members of the clergy.
Asked about directly reaching out to organizers of demonstrations, he said:
“We do attempt to contact who we deem might be the lead organizer in those events. Sometimes that communication is successful; sometimes it’s not.’’
Monday’s march will likely feature continued calls for the Legislature to pass Assembly Bill 392, a proposed measure that would raise the legal standard for justifiable use of deadly force by police from instances when it’s “reasonable’’ to prevent death or serious injury to those when it’s “necessary.’’
Police unions instead are backing a competing bill, SB 230, that would require more use-of-force training. But on Monday the Sacramento police review commission – an advisory board – came out in favor of AB 392. Steinberg has also shown support for it.
Joy Johnson, a pastor who is the head of Sacramento ACT – a faith-based advocacy organization – said the current law gives police officers too much discretion.
“And there are some discrepancies in how it’s applied. I believe this new law would provide a more concrete definition,’’ Johnson said. “We’re trying to raise the public’s consciousness to see that, if you say you followed the law to the letter and the law says it’s justifiable to take the life of an unarmed person, then we believe the law needs re-examining.’’
Les Simmons, pastor of the South Sacramento Christian Center, is among the community leaders expected at Monday’s march. He was one of the clergy members arrested March 4 in what he, Johnson and others have called misguided actions by the police.
Simmons said this past year has been emotionally challenging for his multi-ethnic congregation, which has had to process the Clark shooting, an 11-month-long wait for a DA’s verdict that disappointed many and the concurring decision by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra that no charges should be filed against Mercadal and Robinet.
Simmons believes healing will come from relying on values like accountability and justice, and Monday’s demonstration could be part of that process if handled properly.
“If it’s peaceful and done in the idea of love and community and belonging, I think that would represent lifting up the right theme – peacefully assembling and protesting,’’ he said. “Those things are healthy. They push for change.’’
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