With Sacramento bracing for a decision on the fate of the police officers who killed Stephon Clark last spring, the Sacramento Kings reached out to the black community again Wednesday with a renewed pledge to work for social justice.
A diverse group of speakers, from Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive to Police Chief Daniel Hahn, spoke at a forum the team hosted at Golden 1 Center on economic opportunity, inner-city policing and other topics. Golden 1 became an epicenter of protests over the Clark shooting last March, with demonstrators preventing thousands of fans from attending two home games.
Clark’s death loomed over the proceedings throughout the day Wednesday. Hahn, asked by a moderator about preventing future shootings, said, “There’s no perfect solutions. We have to find them together.”
But he insisted the Police Department is making strides toward forging partnerships in the inner city. He said officers are being trained on how to “understand the circumstances of growing up in Oak Park,” the neighborhood where he was raised. The chief also said officers who are up for promotion to the upper ranks of the department are expected to have read a 2017 book called “The Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”
Pastor Les Simmons, of South Sacramento Christian Center, said the black community wants “these officers held accountable.” Kings broadcaster Doug Christie recalled his teenage son “freaking out” after the two were pulled over in a traffic stop.
District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is expected to announce soon whether the two officers will be charged with a crime in the death of Clark, a young black man who was killed in his grandmother’s back yard last March after a police chase. Officers reportedly mistook his cell phone for a gun.
It is widely assumed that Schubert won’t file charges against the officers, a decision that could bring a resumption of massive street protests. “The wound will be opened back up as we approach the DA’s decision, as we approach the one-year anniversary” of the shooting, Simmons said.
Last spring protestors effectively shut down Golden 1 for two Kings’ home games by blocking the main entrances. The two games were played in front of a mostly empty arena. The Kings then formed an alliance called “Build. Black. Coalition” with advocacy groups such as Black Lives Matter and have spent the past year sponsoring job skill workshops, summer basketball leagues and other programs.
“When we had protestors come (to the arena), I was sympathetic to their message,” Ranadive said. “If people are peacefully protesting, they absolutely have the right to that.”
The Kings installed security fences around the perimeter of the arena last spring to restrict access to Downtown Commons to ticket holders. Ranadive, asked if those measures would be revived, said the Kings “will do what needs to be done to keep everybody safe and secure.”
He added that Wednesday’s event was one more step in the team’s outreach to the black community. Regardless of what happens after the DA’s decision on the Clark shooting, “our commitment is not going to change,” Ranadive said in an interview.
Hours later, the Kings Foundation announced it was donating $50,000 in scholarships. Half will be disbursed by the Sierra Health Foundation to young people affiliated with the Build.Black. Coalition, and the rest will be distributed by the Sacramento Police Foundation to students attending the foundation’s criminal justice magnet school academy.
Other speakers Wednesday included rapper Big Boi, who was also scheduled to perform at halftime of Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks co-hosted the forum, having been thrust into controversy when one of their players, Sterling Brown, was tased by Milwaukee police last spring. Bucks owner Marc Lasrey and Brown’s lawyer Mark Thomsen spoke bluntly about racial injustice in their city.
While Ranadive said he hopes other teams host similar programs, Sacramento activist Berry Accius, one of the leaders of the protests over the past year, said he hopes Wednesday’s forum wasn’t a “dog and pony show.” He said the city’s power structure has to “invest in these places, in these kids” to show that it’s sincere about improving conditions in the black community.
Accius, founder of a group called Voice of the Youth, added that most activists doubt the two police officers will be indicted in the Clark shooting. Nevertheless, he said Clark’s death has “changed the conversation” in Sacramento and could lead to policy changes, including new laws regulating police conduct.