The Sacramento Kings play the Indiana Pacers at Golden 1 Center on Thursday night, just hours after funeral services for Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man shot by Sacramento police.
Will fans be able to get in? Should they even bother trying?
Sacramento police said Wednesday they're developing a plan designed to get fans safely inside the downtown arena. During two of the past three home games, the arena has been on lockdown as chanting protesters, furious over Clark's death, swarmed Golden 1's main entrance and prevented thousands of ticket holders from getting inside. Tuesday night's game against Dallas was played before an estimated 4,000 fans, a quarter of the arena's capacity.
“We will be working with the Kings organization to make sure that we have a strategic plan, because obviously, we are concerned about people's safety,” Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said. “And we also are concerned about people being able to attend the game they paid tickets to go view.”
Chandler didn’t provide details about what the security plan his department has in mind, but he said officers in protective gear, such as face shields and armor, will be ready to respond if necessary on Thursday. The hope is they won’t need to make an appearance.
“It may be there are no protests,” Chandler said.
In a prepared statement, the Kings organization said the team was meeting with Mayor Darrell Steinberg, law enforcement and community leaders on Wednesday and is “committed to ensuring the safety and security of fans on Thursday and future events.”
The team also sent a public letter to fans late Wednesday saying, "We have updated our security plan with the Sacramento Police Department and they have committed to ensure safe entry for all ticketed guests. This plan will include a significant police presence around the arena and through the plaza (Thursday). Security and ticket checks will continue at the perimeter of the plaza. To expedite entry, you are encouraged to arrive early and have your ticket ready to show staff."
A source familiar with the plans said entrance to the plaza will be limited to ticketholders only, and the Kings planned to install additional barricades to provide crowd control and safe passage into the arena.
Sacramento's Black Lives Matter chapter plans to demonstrate Thursday afternoon outside Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's office, a five-minute walk from the arena. It will be their third day of protest originating at the location.
"Anything that has been done, is never been planned so we don’t plan on doing anything with regard to the games, but whatever happens happens," said Tanya Faison, founder of Sacramento’s chapter of Black Lives Matter. She said the protest often moves organically following the lead of the grieving family and friends.
"I don’t know if a game is going to get shutdown again. I don’t really care how the fans feel," Faison said. "The reason we protest is because we want to make it known what is going on. We want them to know how we feel."
After Wednesday's protest at the DA's office, the group marched down I Street blocking an entrance to Interstate 5, with a splinter group blocking J Street.
It wasn't clear whether increasingly impatient Kings fans would show up, or whether they'd be willing to walk their families past chanting protesters and police officers in riot gear to watch a basketball game.
Ryan Price of Vacaville, who was locked out of last Thursday's and Tuesday's games, is going to try again Thursday. He said he would only recommend fans go to the game if the Kings can assure people they can get it and they’ll be safe.
“If the Kings can put out a statement stating maybe what they're going to do to address the issue, ensure fan safety and make sure the fans can get into the building safely, then, yeah, go for it," Price said.
David Carter, a sports-management expert at the University of Southern California, said the Kings might have thought they'd inoculated themselves against further protests because of the team's response last Thursday, the first time protesters blocked the arena entrance.
Chairman Vivek Ranadive addressed the sparse crowd after the game with words of sympathy for Clark and the protesters.
The following game, Sunday against Boston, the Kings players donned warm-up T-shirts bearing Clark's name and recorded a public service announcement with members of the visiting Boston Celtics. There were no protests.
But Tuesday's game against Dallas was a different story, as about 200 protesters who had been at the City Council meeting a few blocks north suddenly bolted for the arena and blocked the arena. Carter said he isn't sure what the Kings can do to ensure another lockdown doesn't occur Thursday.
"They can't do it on their own," Carter said. "It has too many tentacles for any group to resolve it on their own."
At the City Council meeting, activists said converging on the arena is an important way of getting their message out.
“We disrupted the comfort of those who are oblivious to the issues at hand," Anita Ross, founder of Women for Equality, said at Tuesday’s meeting. "We hit people where it hurt. Unfortunately it hurt them by not being able to get into a basketball game or being a little bit late because of traffic. ... Stephon Clark will never be late to pick up his kids again. He will never ever be able to take them to a Sacramento Kings game. We have sparked national attention."
Golden 1 is the perfect venue for raising awareness about the activists' cause, said David Harris, who teaches a class on social movements and social media at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
Golden 1 was funded in part with tax dollars. Former Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player, spearheaded its development as the crown jewel of Sacramento’s revamped downtown. Combine those factors with its position as a national sports venue whose athletes are sympathetic to their cause, and it’s easy to see why Golden 1 is the perfect “symbolic choice," Harris said.
“Ultimately symbolism is a big part of these decisions,” Harris said.
Steinberg said police are well aware of the situation and have been present monitoring the various protests over the past week, including the two protests at Golden 1, and other protests that have at times have blocked traffic and led to some tense moments. On Friday, protesters marched for hours through downtown, midtown and south Sacramento, at times tying up traffic, berating motorists and damaging a few vehicles.
Steinberg said officers have made a point of being restrained, even though people have asked why police haven't made more arrests. He pointed out that while protests have been passionate, they have been mainly nonviolent.
Police have made only two arrests associated with the protests. One man was arrested at City Hall on Tuesday on suspicion of being drunk in public and assaulting an officer. Another man, arrested Friday, was accused of breaking out a bus window.
"We want to respect peaceful protest," Steinberg said. "The idea is to not provoke and to throw gas on a fire."
On Tuesday at Golden 1, about two dozen police officers, about half of them in riot gear, showed up about a half-hour after the protesters and parked themselves about 100 feet outside the metal detectors located near the entrance. They didn't move except for one brief interlude later in the evening, when a small fight broke out between protesters and fans; the police marched over to the area of the altercation, paused briefly, and then marched back to their holding area. That seemed to defuse the situation.
The protesters continued shouting Clark's name and yelling at Kings fans to go home.
"We're not worried about a basketball game tonight," one protester shouted. "Catch the next one."
A few fans got into brief arguments and physical altercations with the protesters. At one point several fans started clanging their Kings cowbells in the protesters' faces, leading to an altercation that left one of the fans sprawled on the ground.
The game began on time, and in the second quarter the Kings posted a message on the digital boards outside the arena telling fans they wouldn't be allowed inside.
Some left, but many lingered for as much as an hour, with a few voicing their displeasure at the Kings organization. One fan berated a Kings security official who was standing outside the arena, telling him the team should have been prepared for security problems following the disruption at last Thursday night's game.
"Shame on you," the man yelled. "I've been a fan for a long time, but I'm done."