Bringing Black Lives Matter to the DA’s door
reports from Sacramento on the ongoing struggle against police violence since Stephon Clark’s murder earlier this year, even in the face of police threats.
IT’S BEEN over 24 weeks — nearly half a year — since police in Sacramento, California, gunned down Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, but there has been no indictment in his murder.
The release of bodycam video of the slaying last March was followed by weeks of remarkable mass protests, including the shutdown of two Sacramento Kings games and the Interstate 5 freeway.
Every week since, Black Lives Matter Sacramento has led community actions in front of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, barbequing, playing music, listing the names of the victims of police violence and demanding that the killer cops be charged.
While the continuing protests at the DA’s office may be small in comparison to those that shut down the freeway and the Golden One Center, they are nonetheless a reminder that the community hasn’t forgotten Stephon Clark and the other victims of police violence — and that preparations have been made for more large-scale mobilizations if there is no indictment.
The continuity of the protests across nearly half a year is testament to the refusal of the community to accept the status quo of racist police violence in California’s state capital.
“It takes people truly committed to justice — that’s what it boils down to,” Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison said in an interview. “Often people will only come out when an action is what I call ‘sexy’ — when there’s a lot of people out or when it’s just happened. But I think that the group that comes out here on a regular basis is just really committed to fighting back. They know the urgency of it.”
THE PROTESTS have continued despite police surveillance, harassment and occasional attacks and arrests.
In April, police attacked the protests in the parking lot of the DA’s office, making two arrests. Then, on August 22, rampaging police from the gang unit charged into the group, arresting two more protesters. Black Lives Matter activist Keyan Bliss sustained cuts and bruises when he was swarmed, shoved into a pole, tackled and pinned by some 10 arresting officers.
The citation listed the cause of the violent, dogpile arrest as a vehicle code violation — “pedestrian outside a crosswalk.” A white protester arrested at the same time for the same conduct was escorted away by a single officer.
The police monitoring the protests have become increasingly aggressive since Black Lives Matter allies went to the pre-wedding party of Officer Terrence Mercadal, to ask him whether he planned his wedding before or after he killed Stephon Clark.
Supporters of the Sacramento police retaliated by posting the name and Facebook profile of a woman they claim was seen in the video of the confrontation. The post went up at the virulently racist and misogynistic “SacPD Underground,” a Facebook hate group allegedly operated by Sacramento police officers. The city of Sacramento claims it is helpless to control the group, since the administrator is anonymous.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert has responded to the community barbeques in front of her office by erecting a chain-link fence around the office and claiming that she fears for her life. She has demanded that taxpayers buy her a new SUV for greater security than that offered by the car she is already provided.
It speaks volumes that the person who is supposed to decide whether officers were justified in killing Stephon Clark hides behind a fence and says she is afraid for her life because Black people are outside her office barbequing.
Schubert was re-elected in the wake of the Clark killing after a nasty campaign in which the District Attorney’s office leaked the e-mails of her opponent — their own former employee, prosecutor Noah Phillips — and police groups flooded Schubert’s campaign with donations.
WHILE SCHUBERT has stated that the investigation into Clark’s slaying could take “well over a year,” it’s hard to imagine what there is left to investigate.
The body camera footage of the killing shows very clearly that officers Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal — both of whom are back at work for the Sacramento Police Department — opened fire on Clark immediately upon coming into contact with him.
This isn’t the first time that Schubert has tried to delay a case. Mikel Laney McIntyre was killed by Sacramento sheriff’s deputies in May 2017. Deputies claim that McIntyre, who was having a mental health crisis, had thrown rocks at them, but it is undisputed that McIntyre was unarmed and trying to flee when deputies shot him.
In all, deputies fired a total of 29 bullets at McIntyre. One deputy — Gabriel Rodriguez — fired 19 shots at McIntyre while running across six lanes of freeway traffic at rush hour.
Even former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, who is now the Sacramento inspector general, has acknowledged that the “number of rounds fired at McIntyre were excessive, unnecessary and put the community at risk.”
Sheriff Scott Jones dismissed Braziel’s report as “political” and locked Braziel out of department facilities, ending any notion that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department will be subject to oversight of any kind.
District Attorney Schubert has remained silent, prompting Mikel’s mother Brigett McIntyre to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sacramento County, demanding to know why, more than a year later, no action has been taken in the killing of her son, when the District Attorney’s office is supposed to conclude officer-involved investigations within 90 days of receiving all relevant materials.
Protesters continue to list McIntyre’s name along with Clark’s and the other victims of racist police violence outside the DA’s office.
BLACK LIVES Matter Sacramento has stayed in the streets and pursued protest and community organization as its primary means of trying to win change.
The importance of that approach was shown by the introduction of California State Assembly Bill 931, the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, which would institute a higher standard for police use of force. It came about as a direct result of the protests against the killing of Stephon Clark.
AB 931 was first softened and then ultimately shelved for the year, but the fact that it cleared initial committee hearings — despite the full weight of California law enforcement groups attempting to kill it — is a significant achievement. Weeks of demonstrations outweighed the impact of years of lobbying, letters to legislators and other more “civil” means of affecting change.
The continuing necessity of such protests is shown by the ever-growing list of names of Black victims of police violence in Sacramento.
Brandon Smith died in police and probation custody on June 6 after stating that he felt like he was having a heart attack. Instead of an ambulance, Sacramento police officers hurled him into the back of a police wagon where he died en route to the Sacramento County jail.
On July 22, a police SUV traveling 27 miles per hour crashed into a 16-year-old child, throwing him into the air and causing serious injuries after he allegedly fled a citation for not having a reflector on his bike.
In addition to these shocking cases, the everyday harassment of African American residents of Sacramento for driving, walking or otherwise existing while Black has continued unabated, despite Police Chief Hahn’s and Mayor Steinberg’s assurances that the city would enter a new era of accountability and positive community relations.
As the weeks pass, protesters remain adamant that they will not be intimidated by police harassment, nor moved by the delay tactics employed by the District Attorney.
The same day he was released from Sacramento County jail following his arrest and brutalization, Keyan Bliss was back at the protest barbeque at the DA’s office, working the grill.
“Their escalation isn’t going to defeat this group,” said Bliss. “I feel like we’re in the ‘then they fight you’ stage of this. They stepped up their attacks because they’re afraid of us — afraid of being held accountable. But each time they exert this unjust force against us we will come back louder and stronger.”
Black Lives Matter Sacramento’s Tanya Faison added:
I think that the police aggression is a tactic to try to get us to not come out, or to be afraid, but we see it and it doesn’t work. After they arrested two people, we were out here much deeper the next day.
We’re prepared for it if the DA stays silent until after her swearing-in next January. If they announce a non-indictment, I expect this town to turn up. I know that because of Stephon Clark’s connection to so many different communities in Sacramento, no matter when she decides to announce anything, this city is going to hear it. And we will respond.