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‘Stand up, fight back’: Sacramento reacts to Stephon Clark decision
Saturday’s announcement set off new bout of protests
March 6, 2019
In the days following Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s announcement Saturday that no criminal charges will be filed against the two police officers who shot and killed unarmed 22-year-old black man, Stephon Clark, last March, protests, demonstrations and overall conversation have erupted across Sacramento.
Schubert’s announcement came in the form of a press conference, one that sparked controversy due to its inclusion of intimate details about Clark’s text message exchanges, internet search history and drug use.
In the four days since the original announcement, Sacramento State students — including members of the Black Student Union and The State Hornet’s co-news editor Will Coburn — were among the 84 arrested at a Monday protest in East Sacramento.
President Robert Nelsen’s spring town hall was replaced with an event in the University Union, with performance art honoring Clark. Sac State and BSU are hosting “spaces for healing and discussion” all week.
In light of the district attorney’s decision — supported by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s announcement that his office’s independent investigation into the shooting concluded that no criminal charges can be sustained — events and protests have been planned all across the city for upcoming weeks.
Since then, Sacramento Chief of Police Daniel Hahn announced that the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI, in conjunction with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, will examine if the shooting involved violations of Clark’s federal civil rights.
‘It was like he was killed again’: Clark family responds
In the time since Schubert’s announcement, in the midst of public backlash and reactions, the Clark family has held multiple press conferences where they have expressed their own views.
Immediately following Saturday’s announcement from the Sacramento District Attorney, an initial press conference was held at their family home in Meadowview.
Stephon’s mother, SeQuette Clark, opened the family press conference by saying her family is outraged by the decision.
“They executed him in my mom’s backyard and it is not right, it is not right,” SeQuette said. “My son is just the one that will break the mold because we’re not going to accept that.”
SeQuette said that her lack of belief in the justice system has not changed since the decision.
“(The justice system is) not for the black community,” she said. “It’s what they’ve shown us time and time again.”
Schubert and SeQuette met before Schubert announced the decision on Saturday, which both women mentioned in their respective press conferences. When they met, Schubert told SeQuette she would be examining personal parts of Clark’s life through his phone records.
“I just told her that, you know, hey, I’m a parent,” SeQuette said. “I knew what was going on in his life. And that has nothing to do with the accident. What was on his cell phone with him and his baby’s mother has zero to do with the actions of the police officers at the time of his homicide.”
When asked about what the family will do next, SeQuette responded it’s time for the community to start fighting for justice.
“This is just the beginning,” SeQuette said. “The fight for justice has just to begin. It has not begun. We have sat and waited patiently for their response. So we have not had any fight for justice. We have not begun to fight.”
In a separate press conference Sunday, Clark’s older brother Stevante Clark announced that there will be a weekend-long celebration held to honor Clark’s life. The Stephon Clark legacy weekend will be held from March 15-18 and will feature a mothers’ brunch, teen summit and a day of remembrance.
Stevante said he plans to lobby for AB 392 — a bill written to encourage law enforcement agents to explore alternative methods in situations that may allow for fatal responses — during the legacy weekend.
“I wanted the legacy weekend to be non-political, but I think any way to prevent anything like this happening to any one of our sons or grandsons, it’s the right thing to do,” Stevante said.
Stevante said the family has experienced a great amount of stress from Schubert’s decision to release Clark’s personal text messages and internet search history.
The Clark family was issued no warning about details of Clark’s text messages and internet search being released to the public, Stevante said.
“It hurt the whole family,” Stevante said. “Stephon, it was like he was killed again.”
East Sac protest ends with 84 arrests
Sacramento State students, journalists and religious leaders were among the confirmed 84 arrested at Monday night’s protest that started at the Trader Joe’s on Folsom Boulevard and eventually moved into the upscale neighborhood known as the Fab 40s.
Among those detained were between 10 and 20 members of BSU, said Khalil Ferguson, a Sac State international relations major and one of the campus BSU’s founders.
“We were peaceful. We recognize that (police) behind us. We’re coming to the end of our march,” Ferguson said. “Why are your numbers growing and why are you increasing your tactics and why are you threatening to use some kind of non lethal force on people who are ending their march?”
The protest was organized by Sacramento activist group The Table in response to Saturday’s announcement by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. While unconfirmed, it is rumored to have been said by officers on the scene that the mass arrest was the largest in the department’s history.
Those detained were released at Cal Expo between midnight and 2 a.m. in waves of one to six people. Community members, friends, family and activists waited at the “California” sign at the main gate in anticipation, and cheers and applause followed every time a group of newly released detainees made the reported half-mile walk to the area where everyone was stationed.
Pools of cars began parking around the island in front of the “California” sign dropping off provisions and blankets. Others came to offer rides back those who left their cars near the initial march route or back to their homes.
According to Sgt. Vance Chandler, spokesperson for the Sacramento Police Department, a crowd first began gathering around 6:30 p.m. at Trader Joe’s. As the night continued, protesters moved through the Fab 40s.
Police made “at least 10 announcements” for protesters to disperse over a two hour period, Chandler said.
“We need folks to still be free and not in jail when the next action comes. It’s time to disperse, it’s time to disperse,” an unidentified protester said over a megaphone.
As minutes passed, police would push the crowd forward as they continued to make arrests. By the time most of the crowd dispersed into the homes next to Folsom Boulevard, they were about three blocks down.
Sacramento police set up body barricades between Trader Joe’s and a CVS Pharmacy, not allowing more protesters and those watching to join the crowd, including Tanya Faison, founder of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter.
In addition to Coburn, The Sacramento Bee news reporter Dale Kasler and Sacramento Business Journal law and policy reporter Scott Rodd were arrested on the scene of the protest. Kasler was released, while Coburn and Rodd were not.
Coburn was released around 2 a.m. after spending approximately five hours in custody. Coburn said he was taken to a processing center near Cal Expo after being detained with others on an overpass in East Sacramento.
Overnight sit-in leads to Arden Fair Mall closure
Arden Fair Mall was closed to the public Sunday after a crowd gathered in protest of the decision not to charge the two policemen who shot and killed Clark.
The closure followed an overnight sit-in and teach-in organized by university students, among which were members of Sac State’s BSU.
Ferguson was at the mall Sunday morning after staying the night.
“Come morning, security guards told us we have to leave,” Ferguson said, adding that a mall official said “it would be considered trespassing” if they stayed.
The protesters stayed in the mall through the night, and Arden Fair announced it would be closed before customers and employees could enter the building.
“As a part of this community, Arden Fair respected the desires of these individuals to express themselves, but due to the high potential for unsafe numbers to gather today, we have closed the center to groups of any size,” Nathan Spradlin, Arden Fair senior marketing manager, told CBS on Sunday.
The protest was organized in part by Voice of the Youth, a non-profit mentoring and motivational speaking program based in Sacramento. Founder and community leader Berry Accius led many of Sunday’s chants at Arden Fair Mall.
“No justice, no peace” and “say his name, Stephon Clark” could be heard throughout the busy parking lot. As cars drove by, some honked their horns in seeming support while others were visibly frustrated.
Ferguson read a list of demands written by a group of activists and on behalf of the city, which included “an end to the dehumanization of black people by the offices of the district attorneys nationally, as well as the offices locally.”
He also called for the two officers that shot and killed Clark — Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet — to be fired immediately, as well as Schubert’s resignation. Ferguson advocated for the passage of Assembly Bill 392, which he said would act as an end to the “over-policing of our neighborhoods and terrorization of black lives.”
Around 1 p.m., protestors linked arms in front of BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse to prevent customers from entering the establishment.
Sac State computer science major Jon Knight said he thought closing the mall over concerns about protests is “silly.”
“Protesting is one of the core fundamental constitutional rights handed down by the founding fathers, so they go hand in hand with the United States and its foundings,” Knight said. “Them closing down (the mall) is just ridiculous.”
Marcus Basquez, a Sacramento Police Department spokesman, said the department is planning to boost security throughout the city in case protests get violent.
“We do have extra patrol going on, we’re prepared and aware of potential backlash,” Basquez said.
Basquez said the department will continue to evaluate whether the city needs extra security for the “next couple of days, at least.”
Immediate community reaction
Outside the district attorney’s office, crowds gathered in protest as the press conference unfolded. People huddled together in the rain to listen to and watch the live stream of the conference.
Following the announcement, Black Lives Matter Sacramento and supporters gathered in front of the Sacramento Police Department. Crowds shouted “no justice, no peace” as they moved from one location to the other.
As the crowd grew in front of the police department building, protesters called for the officers involved in the shooting to be fired by Daniel Hahn, Sacramento’s police chief.
Les Simmons, board member of Sacramento ACT, said that he was displeased with the decision made by the district attorney’s office.
“This is not the justice the community was looking for, this is not the justice that this young man, Stephon Clark, deserved,” Simmons said. “It was unfair to bring all of Clark’s lifestyle and mindset but not bring in the state of the officers’ lives.”
Simmons said that watching Schubert describe Clark’s emotional state leading up to the shooting was “heart-wrenching.”
“It was heart-wrenching not only to listen to her do that but then to hear her say she was not doing exactly what she was doing,” Simmons said. “It was outright wrong.”
Sac State alumnus Marcus Jones protested the district attorney’s decision outside of the Sacramento Police Department on Freeport Boulevard.
“I was upset and pretty much hurt for the family because I know they are seeking justice for Stephon, but the DA should’ve filed charges against those police officers for their wrongdoings,” Jones said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement about the decision, calling for systemic reform in the criminal justice system.
“But most of all, we need to acknowledge the hard truth — our criminal justice system treats young black and Latino men and women differently than their white counterparts. That must change,” Newsom said in the statement.
Sac State hosts events in honor of Clark
The university replaced its spring town hall with an event in the University Union Monday to address issues stemming from the recent news surrounding Clark’s death.
There will be designated community healing spaces in the MLK Center in Lassen 2201, on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, with Friday’s session held in the Multicultural Center in University Library 1010. Faculty and staff will be on hand to counsel students.
A healing circle and a teach-in were held Tuesday in the Multi-Cultural Center. Moments of silence were given to those who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality and for Sac State students who were detained during Monday’s East Sacramento protest.
“The weight and pain of this weekend’s decision regarding the police shooting of Stephon Clark is too heavy to ignore,” Nelsen said at the event.
Students who were involved in the protest and were present at the healing circle and teach-in explained what it was like to be surrounded by police officers, in what some have described as kettling, a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests by limiting the crowds’ available movement to a small area.
Sac State business major Jermaine Gregoire praised the school’s initiative but expressed a need for change with regard to police conduct.
“What the school is doing is stepping up and opening people’s eyes. I’ve seen this stuff my whole life,” Gregoire said.
In his closing statements, Nelsen expressed his hopes for the Sac State community to “come together to support one another during this painful time in our community.”
Margherita Beale, Mitchel Bobo, Eucario Calderon, Will Coburn, Robyn Dobson, Jose Fabian, Shaun Holkko, Eric Jaramishian, Kelly Kiernan, Claire Morgan, Jonathan Nack , Clarissa Pacheco, Storm Ray, Francina Sanchez, Andres Sanchez, Kameron Schmid, Jordan Silva-Benham, Reanna Simmons and Janelle Williams contributed to this report.