Why the Stephon Clark shooting will become a campaign issue

A quick glance at Sacramento County DA Anne Schubert and the Stephon Clark shooting probe

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's investigation into the police shooting of Stephen Clark has gained attention as protests over the use of deadly force rage on.
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Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's investigation into the police shooting of Stephen Clark has gained attention as protests over the use of deadly force rage on.

The Stephon Clark shooting has sparked rallies and protests. It has been the focus of two emotional Sacramento City Council meetings, with another one planned this week.

But will Clark's death also become a campaign issue this spring?

Candidates seeking local office in the June 5 election should be prepared to give their opinions on the conduct of the officers who shot Clark, veteran political consultants said. But candidates also should be ready to opine on police use-of-force policies and how to invest more in disadvantaged neighborhoods like Meadowview, where Clark was killed March 18.

"It's the top issue in the community and it's on everyone's mind," said political strategist Steve Maviglio.

Terry Schanz, chairman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, said he is hopeful the shooting becomes a defining issue in local campaigns.

"We've seen too many unarmed African Americans killed at the hands of law enforcement for too long in this country," he said. "Now it's happened in our backyard. I'm hopeful we'll use the death of Stephon Clark as a means to make sure we are seeking out justice for the victims of gun violence."

Sacramento political consultant Andrew Acosta said candidates will want to tread carefully when discussing the Clark shooting.

“Sometimes it looks too political,” he said. “There’s a measured approach and a way to have a conversation and say, ‘Creating an independent body (to investigate police shootings) is part of my platform.'”

While Sacramento City Council members and candidates for those positions are often asked to provide their opinions on the shooting, the issue will likely play a more direct role in the race for district attorney, consultants said.

District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office will decide whether the officers who killed Clark will be charged criminally. Schubert is running for re-election against Noah Phillips, a deputy district attorney who is campaigning on a platform that includes pushing for greater public access to police officer body camera footage and curtailing low-level drug cases that he argues unfairly target minority populations.

Phillips’ campaign has reported more than $19,000 in contributions from Real Justice, a federal political action committee that counts former Bernie Sanders aides and civil rights activist Shaun King among its leadership.

The state Attorney General will provide independent oversight of the Clark shooting and Schubert said last month she welcomes the added “layer of review.” But she stressed that her office will still take the lead role in the investigation.

Schubert’s chief deputy said last month that the office is “confident in our ability to fairly and ethically review law enforcement use-of-force cases in Sacramento County.”

Schubert has been endorsed by most of the region’s prominent elected officials. Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the entire City Council and the large public safety unions are on that list. Some activists have called on City Council members to rescind those endorsements after the Clark shooting, arguing the district attorney is too closely tied to law enforcement groups.

The Bee reported last week that Schubert received $13,000 in campaign contributions from two law enforcement groups days after the Clark shooting, although the groups and Schubert’s campaign said the donations were in the works before the incident.

One of the groups, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, said the timing of when its donation appeared on disclosure forms was "unfortunate" and not connected to the Clark shooting. The group has contributed $78,000 to her campaigns since 2013.

Phillips has criticized Schubert for not saying enough about the Clark shooting.

“If I’m running for district attorney (against Schubert), I’m screaming from the mountaintop about (the Clark shooting),” Maviglio said. “If I’m running for City Council, where there’s only so much you can do (about the officers’ conduct), you have to have a more steady and judicious approach. They need to think long term and lay out their plan for preventing this from happening again.”

On Friday, the two leading candidates for the City Council District 5 race both expressed concerns with the conduct of the officers who shot and killed Clark.

Councilman Jay Schenirer, who is running for a third term in the district representing Oak Park, Curtis Park, Hollywood Park and other neighborhoods near Sacramento Executive Airport, told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board he assumes the officers will face disciplinary action. He said the officers’ “reactions were, I think, too quick.”

“We need to hold ourselves accountable, we need to hold the police department accountable,” he said.

Tamika L’Ecluse, the top challenger in that race, said she was “highly disappointed” in the officers’ actions and that “it was a really unfortunate event.”

“I want to see them responsible for their actions,” she said.

In the future, L'Ecluse said there needs to be reforms within the police department. She said communities don't have a good grasp of what the city's police review commission does. She added the police department needs to refocus on "community-oriented" policing models.

"If we're going to talk about police reforms, we need to talk about connections and where those connections have holes and gaps," she said.

Schenirer said neighborhoods like Meadowview need more attention. He said he and Steinberg are close to announcing a $500,000 to $1 million program supporting youth employment in the city. He added the city's budget must prioritize low-income communities that are being left behind, especially if the city extends a sales tax increase first passed by voters in 2012.

"How do we signal to those neighborhoods that you are as important as everyone else?" he said. "How we look at the budget this year is going to show who we are as a city."