On March 31, a candlelight vigil was called by the ANSWER Coalition and endorsed by the Black Student Union of Sacramento State, MeCHA de UC Davis, Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Brown Berets de Califas. The night started on Florin road and 65th street and began with a call for Stephon Clark’s murderers and their accomplices to be held accountable.
The Sacramento Sheriff’s deputies responsible for false claims of Stephon Clark breaking windows led directly to his death at the hands of Sacramento PD. This follows a long history of cooperation between Police and the Sheriff’s departments to terrorize working class communities. Abuses in the county jails downtown and in Elk Grove, gang injunctions targeting Black and Brown communities and constant arbitrary arrests have become normal practices amongst both law enforcement agencies in Sacramento.
The as of yet unnamed sheriff’s deputy that directed Sacramento Police officers Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal to Stephon Clark’s backyard has received no media attention at all for his or her role in the killing. Instead, the dominant narrative of “police reform” has come to replace the demand for true accountability for killer cops: life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian.
The vigil began with a rally that included chants of “Its a phone, not a gun!” “How are they protecting us if they’re killing us?” and “Say his name, Stephon Clark!”
Deciding to march, the group proceeded up Florin, where there were two sheriff’s Dept. SUVs stopped a few blocks before Stockton Blvd. Some continued forward, while others were blocked by the sheriffs parked with their lights flashing. As the first car gave orders to the protesters to back up, both cars began to leave. The second car, giving no orders, proceed to hit a woman, Wanda Cleveland, and sped off leaving her lying in the road while protesters scrambled to provide first aid. Fortunately, there was a paramedic in attendance who, along with others, made sure she was ok before the ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. She was released shortly after midnight with a concussion.
The Sheriff’s deputy was identified by the licence plate number “1476894” by legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild on the scene who also took video of the incident. It was promptly reported to the California Highway Patrol which declined to take action and instead later published a statement saying “an investigation is taking place.”
“When we attempted to report the crime to a nearby CHP command vehicle, the officer would not take the report and threatened our team member repeatedly with arrest. When we approached Sacramento Sheriff Dept. and CHP vehicles later to make the report, we were also threatened with arrest…“The Sheriff Dept. statement today that its vehicle was ‘slow moving’ is dishonest and misleading – the vehicle accelerated rapidly into the pedestrian, and then left the scene of the crime. Further, any statement by law enforcement that injuries to the woman hit and thrown to the ground are ‘minor’ is self-serving.“She suffered lacerations, bruises, scrapes and has a large hematoma in her head area. Law enforcement, which ran her down, and then refused to take a report, which is its duty, is not qualified to judge her medical condition. For now, the woman is at home recuperating and has legal representation.”
After the shock of witnessing a hit and run by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, the march was confronted with a line of California Highway Patrol cars and officers blocking the way forward to the busy intersection at Florin and Stockton Blvd. After a standoff that lasted around 15 minutes, the cops in their riot gear packed up and retreated. As they reversed they blasted their sirens in an attempt to hurt people’s ears but could not hide the fact that the intersection now belonged to the people.
After rallying and hearing speeches in the intersection, the march continued to the 65th St. Expressway and found itself in front of the local Sheriff’s Department a few blocks away from Florin Rd. Separated by a large parking lot, from the street the marchers could see a large number of Sheriff’s deputies lined up in riot gear with several vehicles along the building. As people made their way towards the line, a helicopter declared the march an unlawful assembly and threatened all who did not disperse immediately with arrest. Gradually people made their way back to the march which concluded back on Florin and 65th street where speeches were heard from community members.
Police cannot be reformed. There is no reform that could have prevented Stephon Clark’s cold blooded murder. There is no reform that could have saved Wanda Cleveland from the brutality of the Sacramento Sheriff’s department as she called for justice. It is their role in the system to protect property and maintain fear so that oppressed communities are kept silent, criminalized and underdeveloped.
All hard fought and necessary reforms are met with police countermeasures that completely undermine the new rules in place. For example, a rule will say that officers can’t racially profile someone while driving. In practice, the officer pulls the person over, not because they were Black but because they didn’t signal, made a bad turn, or some other minor traffic violation otherwise known as “probable cause.” Another example is with body cameras. First they mysteriously malfunction. Then they happen to be turned off during a shooting. Now the videos are released to the public and yet, we are no closer to Stephon Clark’s killers being behind bars.
How long can we wait for any idea of police reform to become a reality while people are being killed on a daily basis in the streets?
We must change this system to stop these killings. As long as police act as protectors of property for the rich, city and county officials will turn a blind eye to their brutality on the streets. In the name of “Law and Order” police are held above the law and accountable to no order other than the Fraternal Order of Police. Only the people mobilized in the streets have the power to end police terror by creating a new system based on the needs of regular people, not landlords and corporations. The struggle to get justice for Stephon Clark continues in Sacramento and the country alongside the fight to end all forms of capitalist oppression and racist police terror.