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Hundreds of Sacramento students walk out, march to Capitol in Stephon Clark protest

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Continuing a week of civic unrest and political turmoil in Sacramento, high school and college students walked off their campuses by the hundreds Thursday to join a boisterous and at times angry four-hour march to the state Capitol to demand reforms on police use of force.

The protesters, organized by campus chapters of the Black Student Union, marched in support of Assembly Bill 392, which seeks to change police use of deadly force law. The group also voiced anger at Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision not to charge two Sacramento officers in the killing of Stephon Clark.

Marchers, who often spanned entire streets, called for the firing of the two officers and for the DA’s resignation, as well as a stop to “over-policing” in black neighborhoods and an end to an on-campus policing contract between Sacramento City Unified School District and city police.

The event began at Sacramento City College and moved on to Sacramento High, where Clark attended, before ending on the west steps of the Capitol. There, co-organizer Joshua Robinson, a city college student, read a letter to the city calling the DA’s decision “a shame on her office” and “a stain on the city.”

He said the two officers should be fired for failing to “de-escalate before recklessly firing 20 shots in the dark at Stephon Clark,” and demanded authorities drop charges against the 84 protesters who were arrested after a march in East Sacramento Monday night.

Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, co-author of AB 392, asked the crowd to come back to the Capitol this spring to help support his proposed law change. The bill, introduced by McCarty and Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would change use-of-force standards in California.

Current law and court precedent allows officers to use deadly force when they feel they are at risk of harm and when a “reasonable” officer in their place would have done the same thing. The bill would strike the “reasonable” wording, and only permit officers to shoot when “necessary.”

“This is the moment to step up and have California make this change,” McCarty said. “It is not some crazy far-fetched idea from a book. They have this (shoot only in necessity policy) in San Francisco and Seattle. I need your help.”

The Thursday march marked the fifth day of dramatic events in Sacramento, stemming from the killing of Clark, 22, in a Meadowview backyard last March 18. Police had chased him into the yard after receiving a call of someone breaking car windows. They said they thought he pointed a gun at them. It turned out to be a cellphone.

The DA’s decision on Saturday was followed Tuesday by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s announcement that he would not file charges against the two officers. A raucous Sacramento City Council meeting that evening drew waves of angry speakers, many of them vilifying the council and other local leaders, and at one point forcing council members to shut the meeting down and retreat into a back room.

Thursday’s student protest march was among the largest – if not the largest – student-led civil statement in recent Sacramento history, and took place without apparent disturbances, other than road blockages as the group walked through town. Police officers cleared the streets ahead of and behind the marchers.

Marchers denounced police behavior, chanting, “Cops can’t stop the revolution,” and “Whose streets? Our streets?”

“Police have to answer to us. We are not some shooting target,” said marcher Sheku Baryoh 26, a Sacramento City College student. “I’m (not a shooting target) because I’m a black person.”

Sacramento Charter High School student Yashar Yisrael and friends joined the march, saying, “Stephon Clark could have been any of us. We want to show this is something that relates to us.”

Laura Leonard stood on the sidewalk, holding her dog as the marchers passed. Other residents handed out water bottles. “I am 100 percent in support,” Leonard said. “We all have implicit bias. We need to look inside ourselves.”

Students nationwide have participated in school walkouts protesting gun violence in response to school shootings. But organizer Robinson said gun violence toward black youth predates school shootings, something that critics pointed out after the February 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

“Black people have been talking about gun reform for years and we have been bringing this to people’s attention to no avail,” Robinson said. “We are saying it’s a necessity that we address this now, 50 years after the Black Panthers ”

The march comes 52 years after the Black Panthers made national news for marching to the state Capitol armed. Leader Bobby Seale of Oakland read a statement calling for the public to take note of legislation that intends to keep communities of color “disarmed and powerless” while “racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of black people.”

The men were questioned, but did not break any laws in 1967, according to stories by The Sacramento Bee.

March organizes said they also want the district attorney to expunge prior cannabis-related criminal convictions for all Sacramentans, pushed for a more diverse faculty at Sacramento Charter High School, and said they want Sacramento City Unified, Twin Rivers and Natomas Unified School Districts to end their contracts with school resource officers who are stationed on K-12 campuses in the region.

The contract between the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento City Unified School District to provide officers on school campuses will end June 30. The district plans to address all further contracts after they address their structural budget deficit.

Alex Barrios, spokesman from Sacramento Unified School District, issued a statement during the march, saying officials “empathize with students who are feeling very strong emotions right now and want to affect change. In Sac City schools we respect our students’ right to free speech and have made sure that all of our staff are complying with the laws that protect these students’ rights.”

Earlier, Barrios had said school officials preferred students stay on campus.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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