Arden Fair mall closed without ever opening after 10 demonstrators who’d camped overnight in the mall’s central atrium planned a 1960s-style “teach-in” to talk to shoppers about racial justice. The mall originally planned to open but reversed course after executives consulted with Sacramento police and concluded that the protest might grow too big.
Officials believed there was “the high potential for crowds that the interior of the mall couldn’t accommodate safely,” said mall senior marketing manager Nathan Spradlin.
Developer Mark Friedman, whose family is part owner of the mall, added, “We don’t have the ability to control crowds in the way that City Hall or Cesar Chavez Plaza can.”
The group had swelled to several dozen by mid-afternoon. Organizers brought pizzas and drinks, and set up a canopy shelter.
The mall shutdown marked the first significant disruption of business in Sacramento since District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Saturday she wouldn’t prosecute the two police officers who killed Clark, an unarmed black man. The shooting nearly a year ago sparked multiple days of protests that blocked traffic, prompted the early adjournment of a City Council meeting and prevented thousands of fans from attending two Kings games.
Spradlin said the nearby Market Square at Arden Fair shopping center also closed for the day, with the exception of the movie theaters. Market Square is separate from Arden Fair but is owned by Friedman’s company, Fulcrum Properties.
On Sunday, shortly before Arden Fair’s scheduled opening, the demonstrators lined up just inside the mall’s main entrance and chanted slogans. Five Sacramento police officers approached them, and after a brief discussion the protesters left the building but resumed protesting outside.
“Do we have your attention now?” protest leader Berry Accius shouted to people who were approaching the mall entrance.
Accius, founder of a group called Voice of the Youth, said Sacramento residents would get the message even if the indoor teach-in was scrapped.
“They’ll know what happened here at the mall; the lesson is learned,” he said. The protesters were particularly furious that District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, in announcing Saturday she wouldn’t prosecute the police officers who killed Clark last March, had released text messages and other pieces of evidence suggesting he was suicidal.
Speaking to reporters and passerby outside the mall, Accius said the mall shutdown “was the only way for folks to realize what’s going on.” Shoppers will be “inconvenienced, like we are every day having black skin,” he said. As customers approached the mall entrance, several of the protesters shouted, “Go to Roseville!”
One would-be shopper, told the mall was closed, rolled her eyes and said “Get over it” before jumping back in her car. Another said the protesters should find a way to make themselves heard in “ways that don’t interfere with people’s lives.”
But John Hayes, a veteran mall walker, said he was sympathetic to the protests. “Thirty cases and not a single indictment,” he said, referring to Schubert’s record on police shootings. “That’s not a good record, particularly in this case.”
Katie Sekul of Carmichael, who arrived at the mall with her daughter to shop, said, “I think they’re peaceably protesting, and they have that right.” She said she favors retraining police officers to prevent repeats of the Clark incident.
Employees approached the entrance and were turned away just like shoppers. Cristina Renderos, who works at the Sbarro pizzeria, said she respected the demonstrators, but the shutdown would be costly to her. “It’s no good — the money, no pay,” she said.
The protesters entered the mall just before it closed Saturday night and spent the night there. Early Sunday, well before the mall was scheduled to open, they had arranged themselves in a circle in the main atrium of the mall, in front of Nordstrom, sitting down and holding protest signs with slogans like, “No justice, no peace.”
Accius had said the group wouldn’t interfere with shoppers, and some supporters of the demonstrators said it was wrong for the mall to close.
“So what if it’s a big crowd inside?” said Ana Maria Ragland. “That’s not going to stop people from shopping.
“We will go into public spaces, disrupt, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to shut anything down. The mall could have stayed open,” she added.
Accius said the group planned to conduct a “study hall” on social justice issues and hoped to create “a dialogue with other young students.” His group consists of students ages 18 to 23, he said.
One of the students, Khalil Ferguson, read a list of demands to a Sacramento Bee reporter that includes Schubert’s resignation, the firing of the two police officers who killed Clark, and passage of AB 392 — a bill in the Legislature that would significantly tighten the legal standards governing use of force by police officers. Ferguson also said the group wants an “end to the over-policing of our neighborhoods.”
Accius said Sacramento County can’t have a DA who “would massacre and slander a dead man’s name.”
Arden Fair has been the site of unrest the past few years. The day after Christmas, the mall closed early after police said young people were marauding through the mall.