America needs to change its system of policing and focus on training and "implicit bias" in law enforcement, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris told a town hall audience in Sacramento on Thursday in the aftermath of the death of Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old unarmed African American man who was shot and killed by police March 18.
"There is no question that this was a life that should not have been lost, that this is a life that should not have been ended," Harris told a crowd of about 650 people at Unity of Sacramento, a nondenominational church in the La Riviera area of Sacramento County. "I grieve with this community … My heart breaks for what has happened."
Harris, a former prosecutor who served nearly eight years as California's attorney general, called for "leadership" on criminal justice and changing America's system of policing.
"There is a lot of work that needs to be done," Harris said. "I think about it not only in the context of Sacramento but I think about it in the context of those people who are at the highest levels of leadership."
Harris emphasized the need for greater focus in communities in California and across the nation on police training and law enforcement's ability to acknowledge "implicit bias."
"When your bias is coupled with the fact that you carry a gun, it is something that has to be a priority," she said.
Voicing concern about the U.S. Department of Justice being led by "someone who wants to take us back," referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she noted the problem is not unique to Sacramento or California. She said leadership should "really lead, and lead us forward, not backwards."
Harris said the circumstances that led to Clark's death have been issues "that have been challenging our country for decades upon decades upon decades."
Clark was shot last month after being chased into his grandmother's backyard by two officers responding to reports of a man breaking car windows. Police said the officers thought Clark had a gun; after the shooting, they determined he was holding a cellphone.
Several Clark demonstrations over the past two weeks turned into street marches in downtown and south Sacramento and at times clogged traffic. One street protester was injured Saturday night when she was struck by a sheriff's patrol vehicle.
State lawmakers are pushing measures to change the standard for police using deadly force against suspects and to require police to release more information about investigations of officer-involved shootings.
She said the federal government has a role in addressing underlying issues in African American communities involving poverty and violence.
"Poverty inflicts trauma, let's be clear about that," she said, noting the need for greater economic investment. "We need to do a better job."
Harris was met by a largely friendly crowd in Sacramento, though at one point, a man shouted from the back of the crowd at the town hall: "Why are you putting illegals before American people?"
Amid shouting and light heckling, she responded, saying, "I am not putting anyone before anyone else."
"We've got to treat everyone equally," Harris said. "When we're talking about the issue of immigration, on that subject, the approach this administration has taken is not just. It is not fair."
Outside the church, a small crowd of detractors gathered wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. One person waved an American flag while another person said through a megaphone that "Donald Trump is your president. Yes he is."
Also at the town hall, Harris addressed Russian interference in the 2016 American election. "Regardless of what President Trump says … Russia interfered," she said. "There's literally no doubt. It's not a debatable point."
She said a move by Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller before he concludes his investigation would, in her mind, constitute an "impeachable offense."
"I can't imagine that it wouldn't be (one)," Harris said.