Ailene Voisin

Kings, law enforcement officers, community leaders reach out to youngsters

Matt Barnes was among a group of players who organized a youth town hall meeting to improve relationships between communities and police officers. ... Barnes looks on during an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs during the opening of the Golden 1 Center, Thursday, October 27, 2016 in Sacramento.
Matt Barnes was among a group of players who organized a youth town hall meeting to improve relationships between communities and police officers. ... Barnes looks on during an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs during the opening of the Golden 1 Center, Thursday, October 27, 2016 in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Four Kings veterans discussed and debated several ways to address their concerns about the wave of police shootings in mostly African American communities throughout the country, causing fear and straining relationships between residents and law enforcement.

Take a knee. Raise a fist. Remain seated during the national anthem.

“But that’s all been done,” DeMarcus Cousins said, shaking his head, after a youth town hall meeting Monday with local law enforcement and community leaders. “It’s time for action.”

Since the media were banned from the almost three-hour session at Bayside Church that was attended by an estimated 150 high school students – the Kings’ video crew taped the session and tweeted during the discussion – the specifics were sparse and summarized afterward only by the primary participants.

At a news conference that included Cousins, Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, Deputy Chief of Police Ken Bernard, Deputy District Attorney Carlton Davis, Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn, Undersheriff Erik Maness and Dwight Pruitt, a former sheriff’s deputy and longtime NBA security representative, several cited a similar theme for the session: to create better relationships and improve communication between communities and law enforcement.

Asked if he learned anything from the youngsters who spoke up, Bernard paused, then said, “Yes, I learned there is fear in the commmunity still, in certain areas more than others, and we have a lot of work as a profession to break down those barriers. I also learned it’s going to take us pushing it, but also the communities pulling us in to build those relationships.”

Future gatherings are being planned, among them picnics, basketball games, door to door meetings.

Cousins, who attended a similar townhall last summer in Compton and held a question-and-answer session with youngsters at his annual basketball camp in Alabama, said he was inspired by his Olympic teammate Carmelo Anthony to become more pro-active. The All-Star center repeatedly stresses to the youngsters that “not all cops are bad,” though like most of his teammates, he has experienced troubling encounters.

While in high school, he recalls being pulled over in a car and approached by officers holding rifles. Temple, a Baton Rouge native, said he was harassed by white police officers on numerous occasions and was familiar with Alton Sterling, an African-American who killed by police on July. But he also was emotionally devastated when three local police officers were shot and killed soon afterward and another wounded in his hometown. Gay grew up in Baltimore; he could provide enough anecdotes about police harassment, gun violence and drugs to fill an entire season of the discontinued television show “The Wire.”

Barnes, a native Sacramentan, acknowledged a long and rocky history with law enforcement. “When I was with the Lakers a few years ago, I was pulled over four times in one month,” he said. “It showed me that even though I have money and name, nobody’s safe from stereotypes. (But) I learned things tonight. If we can bridge the gap with law enforcement and show the kids, the youth, that it’s ok to listen to them. But at the same time these officers have to listen to the kids as well.”

As the discussion took place inside the midtown church, the parking lot was transformed into a concrete picnic grounds, with tables, chairs and two party tents. Two police cars kept their lights on while representatives of the Sacramento Sheriff Activities League and members of the Sacramento Police Officer’s union grilled dozens of hot dogs for the youngsters to eat after the meeting.

Of the two featured community leaders who have been involved when the townhall meeting was conceived in a private meeting about three weeks ago, only longtime basketball coach Derek Swafford was able to attend. Grant High football coach Mike Alberghini missed the gathering because it conflicted with practice for Friday’s CIF playoff game.

This is a particularly painful time for Alberghini and his Pacers. One year ago this Friday, senior cornerback JJ Clavo was shot and killed while driving teammates back to the Del Paso Heights campus for that evening’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff game against Beyer of Modesto.

Teammates rushed Clavo back to the school, where he was comforted by Alberghini before the ambulance arrived.

“I’m really sorry I couldn’t make the townhall, but I was there for the first meeting we had, and I want to stay involved,” he said Sunday evening. “I’ve been at Grant for 48 years. I’ve seen enough to be happy that I’m here, but I’m concerned with what’s going on. We need to make sure of one thing: a fair, equitable life for everyone. But if there is mistrust, that is not going to happen.”

Noting that Cousins occasionally watches Grant games from the sidelines, Alberghini notes that youngsters gravitate to celebrities and might be receptive to the message.

“The thing with teenagers is that they don’t even listen to their parents half the time,” he added. “They get that attitude. But when they see someone they can look up to and admire, they will listen. DeMarcus, Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple. That’s where we start.”

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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