Police ‘trample’ coffins laid out by Black Lives Matter protesters
One day after a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy was slain by a gunman in Rancho Cordova, Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of downtown Sacramento Tuesday, blocking traffic, clashing loudly with pro-police demonstrators and marching in the name of Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police exactly six months earlier.
As many as 200 protesters began gathering outside the Sacramento Convention Center at J and 13th streets in the morning, ostensibly to shut down a meeting of law enforcement officers from around the state gathering for an annual meeting.
Clark’s brother, Stevante, said he and his relatives wanted to “show solidarity and try to promote accountability on all sides. It’s not just about law enforcement, it’s about accountability on the city level, the district attorney’s level, accountability on the black community as well as accountability across the board.”
“I’ve never been through nothing like this,” he added. “That’s why we’re here. It hurts.”
But plans for additional speeches throughout the day dissipated quickly as Black Lives Matter activists confronted police and pro-police demonstrators who had gathered at the convention center following the Monday shootout that killed 27-year-old Deputy Mark Stasyuk and wounded his partner, Julie Robertson, 28.
“It’s been a remarkably turbulent 2 1/2 days,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said in an interview with The Bee inside the convention center as the protest built. “We’ve just had an officer killed for the third time in the last four years.
“It’s never easy for any of us.”
Jones, who had called Monday for citizens to turn out to “show your support for law enforcement” following the slaying of Stasyuk, said Tuesday he never meant for those comments to suggest a counter protest against Black Lives Matter.
“That was not the intent at all….it was meant to be an outlet,” the sheriff said, adding that he apologized to his Sacramento police counterparts “if I made their day more challenging.”
“But the protest went off as expected without conflict or controversy,” he said. “It’s a testament to Sacramento that we can have different viewpoints, but that we still keep it civil.” The difficulty for me is getting everyone through it. It’s definitely a shock, but we understand the gravity of what we do,”
The protest was loud and profane - but remained peaceful and resulted in no arrests - as marchers snarled traffic throughout downtown as they walked slowly through the streets chanting.
The most dramatic moments came during a nearly hourlong standoff in which protesters climbed into purple makeshift coffins they placed in the lanes of J Street at 13th Street to symbolize people killed by police gunfire.
The protesters ignored repeated orders from police to disperse and end their “unlawful assembly” or face the possibility of arrest, being sprayed with chemicals or being Tased.
The protesters were ordered to disperse “in the name of the people of California.”
“We are the people!” the protesters answered.
The demonstrators finally gave in when a column of police in riot gear carrying batons and tear gas rifles began to move toward the group.
“Let’s do something different, let’s march,” Sacramento Black Lives Matter Founder Tanya Faison told the group, convincing them to move on.
The march headed toward I Street shortly after 1:30 p.m., then continued through downtown blocking traffic until they returned to the convention center in mid-afternoon with about 75 marchers.
Once there, the protesters returned their coffins to the lanes of J Street as officers watched. Police once again gave the order for protesters - as well as media and legal observers - to clear the intersection at 13th Street.
A line of officers clutching batons stood shoulder to shoulder across 13th Street as protesters backed off, and other officers collected the “coffins” and removed them from the street.
The show of force at 13th and J streets differed from previous strategies used in past protests, when they held back from the marchers, diverted traffic away from blocked streets and declined to engage protesters shouting epithets at them.
Black Lives Matter activists initially gathered along the north side of J Street facing the convention center with signs decrying police violence. About two dozen others - who gathered on the south side of J Street - voiced their support for law enforcement, including one who waved a large sign with a photo of slain Deputy Mark Stasyuk that read “End of Watch.”
Stephen Long of Sacramento said he was carrying the sign because he had grown up with Stasyuk.
“This is a long time childhood friend of mine and he had his life taken from him too young,” Long said, adding that Stasyuk was studying psychology in hopes of learning how to help people with problems rather than arrest them.
“He did everything he possibly could, he was going to school for psychology…and what he got for that was violence.”
Another pro-police demonstrator, Robert Dixon of Granite Bay, said he was there to support all officers and was carrying an American flag, a “God Bless the police” sign and wearing a flag shirt.
“I’m out here to support the police,” said Dixon, who was surrounded by others carrying “Back the Blue” signs and blue American flags. “God bless the police. This is un-American out here, we don’t need this.”
The Black Lives Matter contingent strongly opposed that message, insisting they have the right to protest and demanding police stop herding them back across J Street away from the convention center.
Just before noon, Black Lives Matter supporters crossed J Street and set off the first clash as counter protesters began an “All Lives Matter” chant while the others tried to shout them down with “Black Lives Matter” chants.
Police on bikes scrambled to keep the peace, with one officer yelling, “Separate the groups” as J Street traffic was diverted briefly and officers on bikes and horses blocked Black Lives Matter protesters from making their way south onto 13th Street.
At one point, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn stood outside watching the protest, but declined to comment when reporters approached.
Attendees at the COPSWEST Training and Expo and law enforcement officers were required to enter through waist-high steel gates along J Street and show identification or tickets. Two city officers on horseback patrolled the perimeter and doors were locked and marked as emergency exits only. The Starbucks Coffee inside the center was closed for the day.
At the western end of the structure on K and 13th streets, an 8-foot fence with canvas covers surrounded a plaza where a barbecue contest was planned. Huge smokers were belching smoke early Tuesday.
The precautions were in place after Black Lives Matter activists announced plans aimed at “shutting down” the conference, at which more than 1,000 law enforcement officials from around the state were expected to come together for training and seminars.
The Black Lives Matter protest was the latest in a series since Sacramento police shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man who ran from officers and ended up in the backyard of his grandmother’s Meadowview home.
Recent protests outside District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office, where a cyclone fence stands around the building and the parking lot because of the demonstrations, have been largely uneventful.
But protests that erupted in the weeks after Clark’s March 18 death attracted hundreds who shut down city streets, closed Interstate 5 and disrupted attendance at Sacramento Kings’ games.
Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, who helped organize part of the conference, said he hoped the fatal shooting Monday would tamp down the planned protest.
“One of the seminars is called ‘active listening,’” McGinness said of the conference. “They are sadly mistaken about what’s going on in there.”
The Clark family has filed claims against the city seeking more than $35 million for wrongful death, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg Tuesday called for both sides to respect each other.
“When Stephon Clark was killed, I stated very clearly that we mourn his death and that the outcome of his death was wrong and that the policies and procedures leading to his death must be honestly and forthrightly changed,” the mayor said in a text. “My heart and my commitment to change remain with the community and the Clark family.
“I say with equal passion, I mourn and we should all mourn the death of sheriff’s deputy Mark Stasyuk, 27 years old who died protecting the public. His sacrifice and the sacrifice of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day must be equally respected.”
Later, speaking before a news conference at City Hall on climate change, Steinberg declined to comment on the protest, saying he supports “the rights of people to express themselves freely.”
“There is so much vitriol going on in this country, let’s do all we can to listen to one another with open minds and open hearts.”
Ryan Lillis and Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.