On March 22, Black Lives Matter Sacramento called a demonstration at the Sacramento City Hall demanding justice for Stephon Clark.
Clark, a 22-year old father of two, was in his backyard with nothing more than a cell phone when police fired 20 shots and killed him. A Sheriff’s Department helicopter had identified Clark as being responsible for broken car windows in the neighborhood. The helicopter then directed officers Jared Robinet and Terrance Mercadal into the backyard where they saw a Black man and instantly yelled “Gun, gun, gun,” before firing. They proceeded to wait more than five minutes before handcuffing Clark and finally providing emergency medical assistance.
This cold blooded execution and the attempts to cover it up by criminalizing the victim are nothing new for Sacramento’s law enforcement agencies. The families of Adrienne Ludd, Joseph Mann, and Ryan Ellis are among the many in California’s capital city still awaiting answers.
With the demand of prison for the cops responsible, people gathered in front of City Hall in downtown Sacramento. As the crowd gathered, community members gave speeches condemning police violence and calling for justice for Stephon Clark. “They didn’t have to kill him like that. They could have waited for back up, they could have called in the dogs. But they didn’t do that.”
The speeches led to a march that went inside City Hall and demanded to meet with Sacramento police chief Daniel Hanh. After chanting “Its a phone, not a gun!” the group marched around the City Hall building and finally into the streets, blocking I St.
After marching towards the jail, part of the march proceeded towards the freeway where they outnumbered the two CHP officers guarding the I-5 onramp. The crowd of hundreds soon followed as signs reading “Justice for Zoe” flooded onto the busy freeway and traffic came to a halt. As the march moved forward, it took both lanes and the atmosphere turned from a protest to a celebration. After blocking traffic for over 30 minutes during the 5:00 p.m. rush, the march continued back into downtown.
After surrounding a police car that threatened to run protesters over, the march wound up on K Street near the walking entrance to the Golden1 Arena. This area has seen increased investment since the construction of the multi-million dollar arena with the intention of attracting tourists and high-end consumers. Often forgotten is that the Sacramento Kings are one of the few NBA teams not to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), that guarantees reinvestment into the community as well as affordable housing construction among other things. Far from providing community benefits, the team’s owners actually extracted concessions from the City that resulted in increased parking rates downtown and a multi-million dollar debt.
With this in mind, the march proceeded to surround the arena with people locking arms to block the doors. Although many thought this would cause a cancellation of the game, they would later learn that the game went on but with a very small crowd in attendance. This undoubtedly caused an economic impact that forced the issue of Stephon Clark’s murder to be at the forefront of their minds. Kings players and fans could not help but ask why the arena was so empty that night while the concession stands had to ask why their profits were so low. In the days following the protest outside the Arena, Kings players as well as the owner have come out to say that there needed to be greater accountability for the police.
While the front entrance was full of chants like “Its a phone, not a gun,” and “Say his name! Stephon Clark!” a side entrance was opened to allow admission into the game. Upon hearing this, some from the crowd went to the doors located on L St. After making it inside, the group was confronted violently by police in riot gear with tasers, batons and rubber bullets. Two women were tased while several others were hit by batons and bikes that were used to push the crowd out. Several people were injured although no arrests took place.
After returning to the front entrance that was still full of disappointed Kings fans, there was a mix of chanting and conversation for a few hours.
Towards the end of the night, Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark who is also known as Pharoah Davinci, addressed the crowd alongside other family members. He spoke foremost about the need to end to gang wars and build unity in the face of a common enemy. “They shot my brother 20 times! The police are out here murdering us.” The powerful address moved all in attendance as the night came to an end and folks prepared for the next day of demonstrations aware that the struggle for justice would continue.
Friday Candlelight Vigil
The next day, March 23, over 800 people attended a candlelight vigil called by the Sacramento ANSWER Coalition and endorsed by the Sacramento City College Black Student Union, UC Davis Students for Justice in Palestine, Brown Berets de Califas, Sacramento Area Peace Action and Students for Quality Education.
Earlier in the day, a march from the Tower bridge to the capitol ended after hours of marching through downtown streets and blocking busy intersections. As with the day before, despite the presence of organizations, it was the community, friends and family of Stephon Clark taking leadership.
As the vigil gathered around 7:00 p.m. on the corner of Florin road and 29th st. signs reading “Attack one, attack us all!” “Justice for Stephon ‘Zoe’ Clark!” and “Sac PD: Stop Killing Us!” lined the sidewalk and soon spilled into the street. After some chanting, speeches were heard from community members. “Close your eyes, and when we open our mouths, hear our cries instead of looking for the loopholes you used to hang us with,” said a local poet during a spoken word performance on the consequences to come “when the poor have nothing left to eat but the rich.”
“What about our constitutional right to due process? What about our rights against cruel and unusual punishment? What is more cruel and unusual than being shot at 20 times?” said a half-Apache woman to the crowd gaining a large applause.
The march then began up Florin road and stopped at the intersection of 24th st where more speeches were heard. “Sacramento, its time. We have to come together. North, south, east , west, we have to come together. Red and blue, we have to come together,” said a father from South Sacramento. “If you dont stand up tonight you will fall for the rest of your life.”
The march proceeded to the Meadowview light rail station. “We don’t just want justice for Stephon Clark. We want to make sure that helicopters aren’t flying for petty break-ins on cars. We want to make sure there isn’t a school-to-prison pipeline. We want to make sure they aren’t selling people in prisons. That’s what our goals have to be. We want reparations!” said the Black Student Union representative from Sacramento City College.
“They handcuffed my cousin while he was dead!” said a cousin of Stephon Clark as he pointed to a poster with Clark’s face. “I will brag about him all day because if this was me or any one of y’all, he’d be out here speaking too.”
After more speeches and chants , there was a silent march up 29th street passing by the house where Stephon Clark was murdered. Behind the march followed a procession of cars that included family and friends of Stephon Clark as well as residents of the neighborhood outraged by the killing.
As the four mile long march returned to the intersection of Florin and 29th, the crowd took note of a new police presence. After a heated exchange, the lone police car that was surrounded had to retreat behind a deployment of several police cars. Soon these cars were accompanied by officers in riot gear with batons that formed a line in front of the protesters. This gave all in attendance the chance to vent their anger directly to the department responsible for Stephon Clark’s murder.
After nearly an hour long standoff, it became clear to Sac PD that this anger was growing and not subsiding despite it being past 11:00 p.m. and approaching midnight. With over 40 cars deployed along with rubber bullets, bean bag guns and K9 units backing their riot squad, Sacramento police eventually were forced to retreat and leave Florin road in the face of overwhelming resistance from the Meadowview community. This gave way to timely chants of “Whose street? Our streets!” by those demanding justice for Stephon Clark. The night came to a close with conversation around an altar in commemoration of Clark that remained in place over the weekend.
Two days of historic resistance in Sacramento has made the issue of Stephon Clark’s murder an international example of the role played by police in the Black community. The following week, on March 26, the family held a press conference at City Hall. Civil rights lawyer, Ben Crump, (who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown) stood alongside Stephon Clark’s grandmother Sequita Thompson and called for the struggle to continue until there was justice.
As the family makes preparations for Stephon Clark’s funeral on March 30, the community is preparing for another week of actions at the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office. As mobilizations continue, the city of Sacramento will be forced to choose between the demands of the people for justice on one hand, and the demands of the police for absolute impunity on the other. The power of the people is the greatest motive force in history and its tide cannot be stopped when built on a foundation of unity and solidarity. It is with this in mind that we march forward demanding: All power to the people! Justice for Stephon ‘Zoe’ Clark!