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Will Stephon Clark protests block fans from Sacramento Kings games at Golden 1 Center?

Activists block Golden 1 Center entrance to protest Stephon Clark shooting

Activists demonstrating against the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark blocked the entrances to Golden 1 Center and prevented thousands of fans from attending the Kings game.
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Activists demonstrating against the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark blocked the entrances to Golden 1 Center and prevented thousands of fans from attending the Kings game.

The Sacramento Kings’ organization spent much of the past year forging an alliance with activist groups in the black community whose protests over the Stephon Clark shooting effectively shut down Golden 1 Center twice last March. On Wednesday the Kings hosted a nearly day-long “summit” at Golden 1 to address social justice issues, concluding with a pledge to fund $50,000 worth of scholarships for inner-city youths.

The strength of that alliance could soon be put to the test.

As street protests resumed after District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced she wouldn’t file charges against the two police officers who killed Clark, the Kings were preparing for a Monday night game at Golden 1 against the New York Knicks.

It was unclear whether protesters would again direct their anger at the Kings’ 2-year-old arena, one of the most visible symbols of Sacramento’s power structure.

But the Kings and Sacramento police both said Sunday they were prepared to make certain fans could safely enjoy the game.

The Kings would not discuss what safety procedures they have planned, but issued a statement that read, “The safety of our guests is our number one priority. We have strong security protocols in place to ensure a safe environment for our guests.”

Sacramento police said they will have extra officers available for the game, but did not say whether they expected a repeat of the disruptions that took place last year.

Sonia Lewis of Black Lives Matter Sacramento said there “is nothing planned at this moment that I know of” that would involve a protest at the arena.

But, she added, “If we were planning something, we wouldn’t give the media a heads up.”

There were no obvious signs Sunday that the team was planning to surround the arena with cyclone fencing as was done last year at the height of the Clark protests. Pedestrians were strolling around the plaza, some walking dogs, and the Sauced barbecue restaurant directly across from the arena doors had its patio filled with chairs and tables.

Security was noticeably heavier downtown on Saturday in the aftermath of Schubert’s announcement, with about 30 California Highway Patrol cruisers and SUVs positioned near Interstate 5 in the Sacramento Valley Station parking lot. I-5 was shut down by protesters last year, and the CHP has made it a priority to keep demonstrations from reaching the freeway.

On Saturday, two cruisers were parked on the I Street on-ramp, and others were parked nearby, but the main protest that emerged occurred at Sacramento police headquarters.

In an interview Wednesday, team Chairman Vivek Ranadive wouldn’t speculate on what protesters will do but said he welcomes peaceful protests.

“To be in America, where you have freedom of speech, is something I greatly cherish,” said the Indian-born Ranadive.

Last spring, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Clark — an unarmed black man — protesters effectively closed off the main arena entrances before two games. The games were played before sparse crowds that arrived early, while thousands of ticketholders milled outside the building, unable to get inside. Shouting matches and scuffles flared up between protesters and fans.

The Kings and the city responded with beefed-up security; temporary barriers were erected so only ticket holders could get access to the plaza around the arena. Ranadive wouldn’t comment on what security measures would be in place this year, other than to express confidence that fans will be safe.

Last spring the team extended an olive branch to the demonstrators by forming an alliance called “Build. Black. Coalition.” The partnership with Black Lives Matter and other activist groups was designed to support education programs, economic development and workforce preparation. Former Kings player Matt Barnes organized a peace rally, and two players on the roster last season, Vince Carter and Garrett Temple, spoke at a forum on inner-city socioeconomic problems, joined by team broadcaster Doug Christie.

The alliance restored tranquility at Golden 1. The team finished the 2017-18 home schedule without further incidents. And in the months following last spring’s tensions, the Kings have continued to reach out to the inner city community. Last summer they hosted a basketball league for disadvantaged kids, and plan to repeat that this summer.

On Wednesday, in partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Kings hosted about 200 leaders of the black community to a forum on social justice issues, with speakers including Ranadive, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn and community activist Berry Accius, who has been a leader in the Build. Black. Coalition. The event culminated with the Kings Foundation announcing a $50,000 grant for scholarships.

Whatever happens with protests, “our commitment is not going to change in terms of what we do in the community,” Ranadive said.

Recording artist Antwan "Big Boi" Patton talks about his Big Kidz Foundation to help youth during the Sacramento Kings Team Up For Change conference at the Golden 1 Center on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, after a dance performance by Kida the Great.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.

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