Matt Barnes rally demands justice for Stephon Clark
Standing on a stage with Stephon Clark's 3-year-old son in his arms – the two of them playing with cellphones – former Sacramento King Matt Barnes on Saturday announced he is launching a college scholarship fund for Clark's two sons.
It's personal, Barnes said.
“I've got two 9-year-old boys, and I fear for them,” the Del Campo High School graduate said, speaking to a crowd of several hundred at a rally he co-sponsored with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. "How do we explain to our kids because of the color of your skin, people aren’t going to like you?"
Barnes said the scholarship fund will be the start of an unusual effort he'd like to take national.
"This is not a Sacramento problem," he said about the violent death of young black men, some of them fathers. "This is a nationwide problem. Once we get it up we are to going carry it nationwide, to provide kids who have lost their father to unfortunate stuff like this a chance to still come up and be productive men.
"You have my word being from here I am going to do everything," he said. "I am going to be (a) driving force behind Sacramento making the change."
The hourlong noon rally across the street from City Hall featured a litany of speakers, including several members of Clark's family who expressed their pain and called for justice.
Clark, 22, was shot the night of March 18 after being chased into his grandmother's backyard by two police officers responding to reports of a man breaking car windows. Police said the officers thought Clark had a gun. After the shooting, they determined he was holding a cellphone.
Several hundred people attended the rally, including Clark's fiancée, Salena Manni, who brought with her Clark's two sons, Aiden, 3, and Cairo, 1. Barnes held Aiden in his arms, the two of them taking selfies, when he made his scholarship announcement. He then coaxed the boy to say a quiet "hi" and "thank you" to the crowd.
Also present were relatives of Joseph Mann, an African American man who was gunned down by police on Del Paso Boulevard two years ago.
The event carried some of the same anger that infused four straight nights of protests in Sacramento when hundreds of marchers hit the streets.
The Rev. Kevin Ross called for the officers who shot Clark – identified by attorneys as Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet – to be fired and convicted.
Ross urged white people and others to join calls for reform: "Justice is what love looks like in public," he said, quoting Cornel West. "You don't have to get our permission. Get in this moment because you want your grandmother's backyard to be the safest place on the planet."
Barnes also called for accountability in law enforcement, but said he knows that the shooting is not representative of all police officers.
He said he plans to meet with Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and wants officers to get out of their cruisers to meet people in the neighborhoods, because "we fear what we don't know."
"I'm from here. I walked these same streets. I've had these same encounters with police before," the Del Campo High School graduate said to the crowd. "They killed Stephon Clark; they continue to kill us. ... We don't know these cops, so we fear them. They don't know us, so they fear us."
He said he was equally concerned with black-on-black violence. "We don’t respect ourselves. Why is someone else going to respect us?"
The rally at Cesar E. Chavez Plaza came hours after some 300 people marched on city streets late Friday and into the early Saturday morning hours after Clark's family released private autopsy results indicating that he was shot eight times, including six in the back.
The Sacramento County Coroner has not yet released results of the official autopsy.
Several other social justice events were to take place in Sacramento on Saturday.
A vigil for Clark and other victims of police violence is planned for 7 p.m. at the intersection Florin Road and 65th Street, across from a Sacramento County Sheriff's Department service center, according to a news release issued by Jamier Sale of the ANSWER Coalition.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg issued a statement calling for peaceful action: "From the bottom of my heart, I urge our entire community to continue to work together through nonviolent civil action as we pursue justice and demand reform."
The vigil occurs at the same time as a Kings game at Golden 1 Center. Protesters at two recent Kings games caused an arena lock down, preventing thousands of fans from entering. The team and police successfully initiated higher security measures Thursday night, allowing fans to get in without disruption. Those same measures will be in place Saturday.
A second rally held Saturday morning included homage to Clark, but focused on honoring the farm worker and labor movement in California, coinciding with Cesar Chavez Day.
Hundreds gathered at Southside Park, listening to speakers on workers' rights, immigrants' rights, police brutality and its fatal toll on communities of color, all with Chavez's message of equal rights at its center.
"All these issues touch me deeply," said Teresa Portillo, whose father, Carlos Portillo, was an early and influential member of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and whose sons and nephews joined her at the morning rally. Her family lives in the same south Sacramento neighborhoods where Clark was killed.
She said she thinks about her young sons and whether they are safe.
"These young men are growing up in this community," she said. "I have to teach them what to do if they are stopped by police. They haven't been trouble a day in their lives, and it hurts me to have to say this to my sons – that they can be mistaken for criminals for the way they look."
Said Desiree Bates Rojas, one of the organizers of the annual morning rally: "They've tumbled a civil rights boulder down and it's our job now to push it back up. We're living in very tense times. We cannot forget about Stephon Clark. We cannot forget about the attack on our communities."
Alma Lopez of Sacramento, an organizer with Brown Issues, a statewide youth leadership organization, said she is here representing many who were afraid to come because of the Trump administration’s stepped-up ICE raids.
Showing a sign saying, “Crush ICE and make raspados,” – Mexican shaved-ice drinks – Lopez said she got calls from people who worried federal immigration officials might raid the rally. “People asked, ‘What if ICE comes?’ We want people to know we are here standing up for them.”