The shooting death of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police officers is not an isolated incident. Like the deaths of Joseph Mann and Dazion Flenaugh before him, Clark’s death is a reflection of the city’s critically broken criminal justice system, which is run by elected officials who vigorously and often ruthlessly pursue a heavy-handed agenda.
Thousands have rallied at the District Attorney’s office, City Hall, and in the streets to demand justice on behalf of Stephon Clark. Their voices have echoed across the national stage, reaching everyone, it seems – except Republican Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. She has so far declined to charge the officers who killed Clark.
DA Schubert seems to love acting tough; her district, Sacramento County, sends more people to state prisons per capita than almost anywhere else in California. But she isn’t so tough on police officers who break the rules and kill civilians. It was Schubert’s decision to not prosecute the officers who shot Joseph Mann after twice trying to run him over with their cruiser. It was also her decision to not prosecute the officers who shot and killed Dazion Flenaugh, a man who was visibly mentally ill man and did not have a gun.
A reasonable Sacramento police officer would have to conclude: he or she may shoot, injury, or kill community members – especially people of color – with impunity.
And having received a “blank check” for unlawful violence, the police establishment has returned the favor by writing a few checks of its own: Schubert has now received upward of $420,000 from law enforcement for her campaign for re-election in June.
As Sacramento’s head prosecutor, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is the most powerful figure in the city’s criminal justice system. For the last three years, she has repeatedly and systemically acted to perpetuate mass incarceration. She has opposed efforts to reduce the state prison population and has supported legislation attempting to lengthen prison sentences. She’s also served as a highly visible spokesperson for a statewide effort attempting to roll back several recent criminal justice reforms passed overwhelmingly by voters in the 2016 and 2014 elections.
The city’s high rates of arrest and incarceration reflect her instinct to seek unfair, overly punitive sentences. When crime drops, so should arrests and incarceration rates. But despite historically low crime figures, Sacramento continues to prosecute people at alarming levels.
Schubert, who is closely allied with Trump-supporter Sheriff Scott Jones, is directly responsible for policies that over-incarcerate communities of color. She has stood in the way of efforts to decarcerate thousands of people. She is culpable for allowing officers to injure and kill black people with impunity.
As the people of Sacramento protest police brutality, remember that unlike the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark, Schubert works directly for them, not for the Sacramento Police Department. She is accountable to them, not to the law enforcement officers that pad her campaign coffers.
And come June 5, they can make their political voice as loud as the rallies outside of Sacramento City Hall.
Van Jones is the co-founder of #cut50, The Dream Corps initiative to reduce prison populations, and host of CNN's The Van Jones Show. Reach him at VanJones@dreamcorps.us.