Protesters demand justice for Stephon Clark, 50 years after MLK died

Marchers chant as they walk down 7th Street in downtown Sacramento

People protesting the police shooting of Stephon Clark march as they move through downtown Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon.
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People protesting the police shooting of Stephon Clark march as they move through downtown Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon.

Hundreds of activists marched through Sacramento's downtown streets Wednesday, 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in a nonviolent protest of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man last month.

It was the latest in a series of protests that have snarled traffic, blocked ticket-holders from Sacramento Kings games and disrupted a City Council meeting — all to express outrage and demand police accountability in the killing of Stephon Clark, 22, who was shot in the backyard of his grandparents' Meadowview home.

Some of those protests have involved minor scuffles, vandalism and tense standoffs with police. But Wednesday's demonstration was well ordered and peaceable, as of 7 p.m., in honor of King, who died April 4, 1968. The civil rights icon preached nonviolent protest as a means of achieving social justice.

Activists said Clark's death showed King's goals have yet to be met. They vowed to continue protesting.

"It has been 50 years, and we're still fighting for the same things, so we're still angry," said Tanya Faison, a founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. "Everything Martin Luther King fought for, we're still fighting for."

Wednesday's larger-than-normal crowd of activists gathered, starting at 3 p.m., in front of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's office.

The protest was the second organized by Black Lives Matter Sacramento this week in front of Schubert's office and the fifth at that location since two Sacramento police officers shot and killed Clark on March 18. Body camera footage indicated the officers thought Clark was armed, when in fact he was holding a cellphone.

Activists said they want the district attorney to prosecute the officers.

"Send killer cops to jail," protesters chanted outside Schubert's office.

Wednesday's group was loud and energetic. Protesters moved off the sidewalk in front of the DA's office to allow for people in wheelchairs and walkers to pass. One man fired up a barbecue grill to cook hamburgers. Parents brought young children and infants.

The Anti Police-Terror Project, which seeks to "eradicate police terror in communities of color," according to the group's website, was listed as a co-host for Wednesday's event. The group brought along other families who have had relatives killed by police. Activists from around Northern California showed up, including some from Oakland.

Almost 600 people said they would attend the event on Facebook, though the crowd peaked at around 400 people. The activists blocked some traffic and light-rail trains during the evening commute.

"Please be advised, approximately 200 people are currently protesting in the downtown area around Regional Transit tracks. Trains may experience delays," RT posted on Twitter.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Sacramento Police Department had not released the names of the officers who shot Clark, citing safety concerns stemming from threats made against them. A representative from the law office of Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris identified the two officers as Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.

Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, said employees worked normal hours Wednesday.

Traffic advisories were sent out early Wednesday afternoon via the Sacramento Police Department's Nextdoor page and a text messaging system, warning of "heavier than normal traffic congestion in the downtown area this afternoon."

Elk Grove’s public transportation service, which operates some commuter routes in downtown Sacramento, sent out a similar notice Wednesday, as did Yolobus.

By 5 p.m., protesters had begun spilling off the sidewalk onto G Street, blocking traffic between Ninth and 10th streets. They headed along H and I streets, stopping to chant in front of the Sacramento County Main Jail and City Hall. A large police contingent guarded the entrance ramp to Interstate 5, which protesters blocked March 22.

Wednesday's protest march seemed more structured than others in the past two weeks, with certain individuals dressed in black shepherding the crowd through the streets and helping to keep them tightly bunched.

Police on bicycles kept their distance, blocking traffic ahead of the protesters but not confronting them.

By 7 p.m. the demonstrators had marched back to the DA's office, where many dispersed.

Anderi Bailey, a Sacramento comedian, came to the rally with his son and nephew. He said he hoped the protests would lead to officers being trained to deescalate confrontations rather than resorting to force.

"We got a real nonviolent protest going on here in honor of 50 years of Martin Luther King and his passing," Bailey said. "This is a great representation for nonviolence."

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