Erika D. Smith

Mad about Stephon Clark protesters shutting down the Kings and I-5? Check your privilege

This is Erika D. Smith's take on the Stephon Clark shooting as told to NPR radio host

Sacramento Bee editorial writer Erika D. Smith talks about the police shooting of unarmed black man Stephon Clark on the NPR radio program "On Point," which airs on WBUR in Boston.
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Sacramento Bee editorial writer Erika D. Smith talks about the police shooting of unarmed black man Stephon Clark on the NPR radio program "On Point," which airs on WBUR in Boston.

Dear well-meaning progressives of Sacramento:

So I hear you’re a little upset about the way, on Thursday, some people — OK, people with Black Lives Matter — were peacefully protesting the police shooting of Stephon Clark.

I know, I know. You’re as troubled as any other "woke" progressive about his death on Sunday night. The 22-year-old father of two shouldn’t have died the way he did, standing in his grandmother’s backyard in Meadowview after being chased down by two cops and a helicopter.

You think it’s unacceptable that the officers didn’t identify themselves before shouting “gun” and sending 20 bullets flying through the dark toward his body. And you’re suspicious about why, after the shooting, cops at the scene turned off the microphones on their body cameras and had a conversation amongst themselves for a couple of minutes.

Activists demonstrating against the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark blocked the entrances to Golden 1 Center and prevented thousands of fans from attending the Kings game.

But the Sacramento Kings game? Did protesters really have to block Golden 1 Center in Clark’s name? Basketball fans drove all the way downtown and parked in a garage only to find out that they couldn’t get inside on Thursday night. Protesters had the place surrounded and then the team locked the doors.

"Tonight's game began with a delay," the Kings said in a statement. "Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home."

And Interstate 5? Was it really necessary to march down I Street and onto the highway ramp during rush hour? RUSH HOUR?! People have to get home to their families in the suburbs. Parents have to make dinner. Kids have homework to do and bedtimes to make.

What's next? Riots? (Like you, I agree that violence is never OK.) And why do we need Al Sharpton?

I get it. I do.

As one man told The Bee as he walked away from Golden 1 Center on Thursday night, his wife and four children in tow: "I'm very disappointed. I mean, I feel their pain, but why do we have to suffer as well? We paid a lot of money for these tickets."

First of all, let's get one thing straight: Being inconvenienced for one day or even two is not “suffering,” a word I’ve heard far too many times since Thursday. “Suffering” is what Clark’s family is doing right now. "Suffering" is what young black men do all over this country, living with the fear of their lives being taken by gun violence.

Sequita Thompson, recounts the harrowing night her grandson Stephon Clark was shot by Sacramento police in her backyard.

What’s more, being inconvenienced is a surefire way to shake you out of your privilege. I'm not talking about the kind of unacceptably destructive protests that we've seen in other cities, such as Ferguson and Baltimore, and, unfortunately, had hints of in Sacramento on Friday. I'm talking about the minor aggravation of having to wait another hour to get home, or the disappointment of missing a basketball game.

Why should all of Sacramento have to “suffer” for one shooting that happened to one family in one neighborhood? Precisely because you have the ability to ignore the implications of it anytime you see fit. If you aren't worried about police bias taking out a member of your family, then I'm talking to you.

Big, systemic change starts with lots of people caring about a problem and making people care means first making them pay attention. And getting people to pay attention means making people uncomfortable. There were a lot of uncomfortable people in Sacramento on Thursday, and that's good.

The question isn’t whether change is happening in Sacramento. It most certainly is.

We have a new police chief in Daniel Hahn, a black man who, I believe, really cares about Sacramento and wants to keep the promises made to black community after the wholly unnecessary police shooting of Joseph Mann on Del Paso Boulevard. We have a mayor who hasn’t been shy about pushing for police reforms. And we have new civilian oversight commission that has more power to investigate officers accused of wrongdoing.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg talked to reporters Thursday about the shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police officers, saying it was too early to say if the shooting was justified or not.

The question is whether change is happening fast enough.

Ask Sequita Thompson if it is. The grandmother was awake and sitting in the dining room when she heard four gunshots. She didn’t know that it was her grandson Stephon getting shot to death in her backyard. She sat in her living room for hours answering officers’ questions before looking outside and seeing his body.

Ask Les Simmons, who led the city’s first oversight commission and quit out of disgust.

“Where were the less-lethal weapons that would have preserved Stephon’s life?” he asked in a piece penned for The Huffington Post. “The officers had the equipment, so why didn’t they use it? Why did the police shout ‘gun’ when Stephon was only holding a cell phone? Why did officers gather in a small huddle in front of the house and mute the microphones on their body cameras after Stephon was killed? And what good is a use-of-force policy if it is not followed?”

This is why we need big, systemic change. This is why we need transparency and accountability. Because everyone knows that, with California's overly restrictive Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights entrenched in law, the likelihood of the officers getting charged, much less convicted, is slim to none.

The more people who decide that enough is enough, the more people who protest and court the pressure cooker of the national spotlight, the more leaders not just at City Hall, but at the Capitol will be forced to act.

You have to do more than mean well to create change, fellow progressives.

Protesters from Black Lives Matter and other groups came together Thursday to march against the shooting death of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police officers. The demonstrators shut down I Street and Interstate 5 before heading to Golden 1 Center.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, Erika_D_Smith

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