They won’t silence our call for justice for Stephon

March 7, 2019

Alex Moyle reports on an eruption of protest in Sacramento after officials announced they wouldn’t be pressing charges against the cops who killed Stephon Clark last year.

WHEN SACRAMENTO County District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert announced she would be holding a press conference March 2 to release the findings of the investigation into the Sacramento Police Department’s killing of Stephon Clark last March, few people in the community expected justice.

Schubert, after all, has overseen investigations into more than 30 police shootings during her tenure as DA, and has failed to prosecute a single cop in any of these cases.

Not for Joseph Mann, who Sacramento police gunned down after first attempting to run him over. Not for Mikel McIntyre, who was shot in the back by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy across six lanes of freeway traffic during rush hour.

And now, not for Stephon Clark either — who was unarmed and in his grandmother’s backyard when Sacramento police officers Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal gunned him down in a hail of 20 bullets.

In the streets of Sacramento to demand justice for Stephon Clark
In the streets of Sacramento to demand justice for Stephon Clark

However, even steeled activists, fully aware of Schubert’s history, were shocked by the depths to which she sank at the press conference to justify her decision not to charge the officers who killed Stephon.

Far from even attempting a tone of conciliation, Schubert used her time to engage in further character assassination of Stephon Clark.

To the shock and dismay of Selena Manni, Clark’s fiancée and the mother of Clark’s children, Schubert released personal text messages, Clark’s toxicology report and information about a prior domestic violence charge, in a shameful and absurd attempt to imply that Clark’s death may have been a “suicide by cop.”

“You can see that there were many things weighing heavily on his mind,” said Schubert. “It is clear that they had a very tumultuous relationship.”

A traumatized and distraught Manni rebuked Schubert’s smearing of Clark, saying:

What I felt the DA announced today was not about what happened on March 16, not about what happened on March 17, it was about what happened on March 18 when the officers murdered my fiancé — murdered Stephon Clark. That’s what this is about. It’s not about anything that happened before that.

Schubert’s press conference made it clear that the case the prosecutor had been preparing over the course of the last year was not against the killer cops, but against their victim.

It isn’t enough for Stephon Clark to have been physically murdered by police. The cops and other authorities have gone to great lengths to assassinate his character again and again — even as his name remains a rallying point for those fighting back against the racist brutality of police in the city of Sacramento.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the announcement, more than 100 protesters gathered at the Sacramento Police station on Freeport Boulevard.

Protesters burned a collection of “Blue Lives Matter” flags — a hate symbol embraced by the racist backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement — and a succession of Black poets active in the movement spoke, expressing their resilience, their heartache and their rage while standing atop the ashes of the flags.

The next day, March 3, 13 Black Sacramento State University students shut down the entirety of the 1.1 million square foot Arden Fair Mall.

The students camped out overnight in the central atrium of the mall, planning to carry out a teach-in and potentially engage thousands of shoppers on issues of racial injustice the next day. The group demanded that officers Mercadal and Robinet be fired, and that DA Schubert apologize for the “unequivocal defamation of Stephon Clark” and resign.

Fearing the group would grow from a handful of students into a huge crowd, Sacramento police urged mall executives not to open their facilities, and shoppers were turned away at the door.

Protests aimed at disruption of the local economy and “business as usual” continued the following night, as marchers met at a Trader Joe’s and then marched to East Sacramento’s “Fab 40s” — among the most affluent (and overwhelmingly white) neighborhoods in the city.

Members of the Sacramento Police Department, Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol responded to the nonviolent protests with helicopters and massive formations of riot cops — as if the mere presence of Black people in East Sacramento was an act of war.

In a coordinated act between the three departments with long and continuing histories of racist brutality, protesters were ordered to disperse — but then corralled onto a bridge preventing them from doing so.

Riot cops then swarmed, arresting dozens, including children, clergy, disabled people, legal observers and reporters from the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Business Journal and the State Hornet. At least 85 arrests took place — with unsubstantiated allegations of cars being keyed in the neighborhood as the laughable justification for the police rampage.

FOR WEEKS leading up to the anticipated announcement that no charges would be filed, Sacramento’s mayor, City Council and downtown business associations were obsessed with the fear of Black protesters responding with “violence” — despite the fact that Black-led protests against police brutality in Sacramento have been remarkably peaceful, despite continual police provocation. On the evening of March 4, yet again, it was only the police who were violent.

On March 5, the day after the police rampage in East Sacramento, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that his office’s investigation into the Clark killing had also concluded, and that neither officer would face state charges.

While Becerra didn’t echo Schubert’s “suicide by cop” conspiracy theory, he had zero recourse or consolation to offer Clark’s family and the Black community in general.

Becerra despicably parroted the police version of events, citing a broken sliding glass door, Clark’s supposed failure to obey commands, and the claim that he was coming towards the officers to justify the murder, before trailing off into platitudes about writing happier endings to these stories in the future.

This total lack of recourse for the victims of police violence and the absurdity of a legal system under which police murdering an unarmed man results in no charges — but an allegation of keyed cars results in 85 arrests — are setting the stage for the return of mass protest to Sacramento.

Numerous direct actions and disruptions led by various groups were being planned in the days following Schubert’s announcement, leading up to a planned march in Meadowview on March 18, the one-year anniversary of Stephon Clark’s murder.

National media attention faded last year after the numbers of Sacramento protesters declined in the weeks following the dramatic shutdowns of the freeway, City Hall and two Sacramento Kings games shortly after Clark’s killing. But demonstrations demanding justice for Stephon Clark never ceased in Sacramento.

The Black Lives Matter Sacramento-led protests that have continued for three days a week at the DA’s office to demand indictments are now moving to the Sacramento Police Department station on Freeport Boulevard — to demand that officers Mercadal and Robinet be fired.

Given how commonplace such travesties of “justice” have been in Sacramento, it is no surprise that these protests have continued over the last year and have the potential to escalate.

“Business as usual” in this city includes a young Black man being killed by police roughly once every four months. It includes constant police harassment for driving, walking or otherwise existing while Black. It includes soaring rents, displacement and homelessness.

“Business as usual” is a district attorney who will never charge any cop with any crime, and a racist sheriff who refuses to be subject to even the most basic oversight.

The powers that be in Sacramento — from the mayor to the DA to the downtown business associations — are longing for an end to the protests and a return to normalcy. But the coalition of groups and activists vowing to continue demonstrating for justice for Stephon Clark are making it clear that there can be no going back.

Stephon Clark’s name will not be forgotten, and the voices calling for justice for his murder will not be silenced.

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