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'Understand the power of your vote:' Stephon Clark's family, black leaders make appeal ahead of Election Day

Stephon Clark’s family and friends stood shoulder to shoulder with local African-American leaders on the steps of the state Capitol Thursday to say the change they seek starts at the ballot box.

The get-out-the-vote event heading into the weekend before Election Day targeted black and other minority voters with its calls to turn community pain and grief nearly three months after Clark, 22, was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers into votes for law enforcement reforms. Police fired believing Clark had a gun. He was holding a cell phone.

“Justice looks like reform for Stephon Clark,” said Les Simmons, pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center and a member of social justice advocacy Sacramento Area Congregations. “It looks like reform in our Sheriff and in our DA, with folks who can see our pain, who can solve the crisis of our pain.”

Though the event was not an overt appeal for DA challenger Noah Phillips, the deputy prosecutor whose campaign, Clark family members and black leaders at the rally repeatedly called for a new name in the DA’s office.

“Throughout the grief, tears and prayers, we are still seeking justice, but the answers for the death of Stephon Clark will not go unheard. With this great loss….we stand with the Clark family,” said Betty Williams, Sacramento NAACP branch president. “Because we stand here, we want change. We’re asking that you understand the power of your vote.”

Phillips attended the event and spoke briefly sounding familiar themes of criminal justice reform, police accountability and more aggressive investigation of officer-involved shootings.

“The status quo refuse to have a conversation about law enforcement transparency and accountability, so the people on this stage are having that conversation ourselves,” Phillips said. “We are at a crossroads here in Sacramento County. We could be a model for how the system can work for everyone.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, in an ugly election battle with deputy District Attorney and principal criminal attorney Phillips to retain her seat, has come under intense heat for months for her perceived inaction in the wake of Clark’s fatal shooting and deaths of other African-American men by local law enforcement.

Schubert was not available for comment Thursday, but reiterated through spokeswoman Shelly Orio that her office has yet to receive investigative findings from the Sacramento police. Schubert has repeatedly said her office can do little in the Clark case until it receives the findings.

The erection of a chain-link fence surrounding the District Attorney’s downtown offices to dissuade daily demonstrations by protesters and no-shows at events including an ACLU campaign forum and one at a predominantly African-American church in Meadowview have disappointed local black leaders and potentially alienated voters.

Jamilia Land, who in the days after Clark’s death, made an emotional call for mental health services and understanding for Clark’s surviving brother Stevante Clark and others in African-American communities struggling with mental illness, made that plain in brief remarks.

“Let’s show Ms. Schubert that you can’t hide behind a fence, just like you can’t hide a killing in a backyard,” Land said.

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