'We see judge, jury and executioner'
The anguish of Sacramento’s African-American community was on full display inside City Hall on Tuesday, and the councilman who represents the neighborhood where Stephon Clark was fatally shot offered the strongest criticism yet among city officials of the incident.
For more than two hours, speaker after speaker walked to a podium in front of the City Council inside a packed chamber. Some fought back tears. Some read poetry. Many raised their voices. But at no point did the hearing turn violent.
Speakers demanded accountability for the shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police officers in pursuit of an alleged car burglar in Meadowview on March 18. Officers said they believed Clark, 22, had a gun. He was found only with his cellphone.
Rashid Sidqe, a member of Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, said it was time for the City Council “to make a stand.”
“Today, you hear pain in our community because it’s (police shootings) happening over and over and over again,” he told the council. “This is where your life will begin or your life will end, your political life. This is a time not to be on the fence but to choose a side. It’s time to speak out and make a stand.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Councilman Larry Carr provided perhaps the strongest condemnation of the Clark shooting by any city elected official.
“It just doesn’t look right,” said Carr, who is black and who represents Meadowview on the council.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the eight council members sat mostly silent throughout the hearing, although Steinberg did demand that a handful of speakers sit down after they used their permitted two minutes of testimony.
The mayor leaned forward in his seat as speakers told their stories, frowning or nodding as some gave passionate testimony about why the shooting of Clark has devastated the city’s black community.
At one point, Steinberg appeared to be on the verge of tears as a woman talked about the fear she feels every time her black 18-year-old son leaves the home.
“I don’t expect many of you who testified tonight will believe me, but I am hurting with you and we are hurting with you,” the mayor said at the end of the hearing. “I am willing to be judged by what we do to genuinely help people in our communities and our neighborhoods who are hurting in every level or every way and to live up to the truth that you came here to speak tonight, that black lives matter.”
Councilman Allen Warren of Del Paso Heights said he wants an ordinance that brings disciplinary action against officers who manipulate the audio or video of body cameras. The officers who shot Clark turned the audio off on their body cams after the shooting.
The atmosphere was far more controlled than the previous week, when Stevante Clark – Stephon Clark’s brother – burst into council chambers and engaged in a tense exchange with the mayor, telling Steinberg repeatedly to shut up. That meeting eventually ended early.
Tuesday’s hearing began after about 50 protesters repeated calls for Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert to file charges against the two Sacramento police officers who shot Clark.
The DA protest was organized by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, which also demonstrated in front of Schubert’s office for three consecutive days last week. Sacramento has seen several days of demonstrations since the Clark shooting, including one that shut down Interstate 5 and two that prevented thousands of fans from attending Kings games.
Schubert's office is reviewing the Clark shooting for any criminal violations, as it does for any officer-involved shooting that results in injury or death. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week said his office would provide independent oversight of the investigation and maintain the authority to file criminal charges regardless of whether the DA does so.
Another protest in front of Schubert’s office is planned for Wednesday, coinciding with the National Day of Action on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
"We are going to continue to be out here every week until we get justice," said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
Several speakers at the council meeting called for police to be disarmed and for the officers who shot Clark to be charged. They also decried a lack of investment in low-income neighborhoods.
Steinberg said the City Council would hold a public workshop at next Tuesday’s meeting, during which Police Chief Daniel Hahn will explain to the council and public the department’s policies on pursuits and use of force.
“The council will meet in our workshop to address the questions of protocol, policy and training that arise out of the death of Stephon Clark,” the mayor told the public at the beginning of the meeting.
Steinberg first raised questions with the department’s policies during a news conference three days after Clark was killed.
“I understand the job of a policeman is not easy,” said Casey B. Barthell, who said he served in the military. “We want us as citizens to be accountable for our actions, at least we want our cops to do the same.”
Ciara Picou-Grant fought back tears as she spoke.
“We’re angry that our people are dying,” she said. “We are in a system of systematic oppression. We know we don’t get heard, but we’re going to keep speaking until we get our justice for Stephon Clark.”
There were some tense moments during the hearing.
One person in the audience quietly uttered an expletive when the mayor asked the audience to quiet down.
Another speaker asked the council and Steinberg: "Do you love Stephon Clark?" Council members and the mayor remained silent, as they had during other speeches, but some in the audience expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of a response.