With raw emotions still spilling onto the streets of his city, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is asking the same question many ask after an unarmed black man is shot dead by police:
Isn’t there another way?
In a 20-minute interview with The Sacramento Bee on Friday, an emotional Steinberg – his voice cracking at times – said black residents of Sacramento do not feel safe and that “de-escalation is not just a throw-away term” when it comes to how police officers respond to perceived threats.
“I feel that if we’re going to attain justice – which is every bit as important as peace – that we have to ask the hard questions,” Steinberg said. “And when it comes to policy and protocol, is there not another way? The same thing keeps happening again and again across this country. That’s what we need to talk about: Is there not another way?”
Stephon Clark, 22, was shot and killed in his grandparents’ backyard in Meadowview on Sunday by two police officers who fired a combined 20 gunshots. The officers said they believed Clark had a gun before opening fire. Clark was found with only a cellphone.
“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation (into Clark’s shooting) – and again, it’s not judging whether or not the officers acting in a split second were justified – whatever the answer is to that question, the outcome itself is wrong,” Steinberg said. “The outcome is wrong. A 22-year-old should not be dead.”
Steinberg has asked the Police Department to explore its policies on use of force, including how many gunshots an officer should fire and how long officers should wait before providing medical aid to someone they’ve shot. The department is expected to report on its policies April 10.
With his statement Friday, the mayor indicated he wants police in Sacramento to consider using non-lethal force more often when confronting suspects. He said he wants to lead the community discussion on how officers should handle those situations.
“I have a 21-year-old son and never in his teenage years did I ever have to teach him about the importance of holding your hands high if he was ever stopped by a police officer,” Steinberg said. “No words can adequately express what it must be like for an African American parent to have to teach that lesson as a reality of growing up black.
"What I hear more than anything else from people in the African American community – and it doesn't matter what their station is in life, from low-income communities to people in high positions of responsibility – there is a predominant feeling that they don't feel safe," the mayor added.
The mayor stressed that he has “the greatest respect for the men and women who put on the (police) uniform.”
“I’m not trying to be politically-balanced; that isn’t it for me,” Steinberg said. “It is important to not prejudge the outcome of an investigation and to express the genuine respect and regard I have for the men and women who put on that uniform.”
Steinberg lauded the Police Department’s handling of the large protests downtown on Thursday, when no arrests were made and no serious property damage occurred. He also said the protesters – led by Black Lives Matter – “handled it very, very well” and said it was appropriate for the Kings to close the doors of Golden 1 Center once the protest reached the arena.
“I understand people were inconvenienced, but people have to have a peaceful way to vent and to express their feelings,” the mayor said. “Frankly, we love our Kings, but there are some things in life more important than basketball.”