By Manny Otiko | California Black Media
Sacramento resident Stephon Clark became the latest unarmed Black male to die in a police-related shooting. The story has spread across the national media to become the newest flashpoint amongst African-American activists and community leaders and the families who demand action on police violence.
According to reports, Clark, a father of two, was in his grandmother’s backyard as Sacramento police were following up on a call that a man was breaking car windows. The Sacramento Sheriff’s helicopter was providing air coverage while directing Sacramento officers on the ground.
Upon encountering Clark, officers are heard on police body cam footage saying “gun, gun” and within seconds, immediately shot 20 rounds killing the father of two.
“Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands. At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms. The only item found near the suspect was a cell phone,” according to a Sacramento Police Department news release.
In response to the shooting, Black Lives Matter and other Sacramento area activists staged a public protest shutting down a section of the I-5 later to form a human blockade preventing over 10,000 people from entering Golden One arena. The Kings and the Boston Celtics both wore shirts featuring Clark’s name before their Sunday game.
A Coalition of community activists in support of the Clark family convened a press conference on March 26 at Sacramento City Hall calling for “justice, reform and healing.”
Clark’s grandmother Sequita Thompson recounted the night when she heard gunshots in her backyard. She recalled sitting on her computer and crawling on the floor to her 7-year-old granddaughter who was asleep on the couch when the shots started.
“They didn’t have to kill him like that,” said Thompson. “They didn’t have to shoot him that many times. Why didn’t you shoot him in the arm? Shoot him in the leg? Send the dogs, a taser … why? Over a cell phone? I just want justice for my grandson.”
President of the Sacramento chapter of the NAACP Betty Williams met with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn and put calls in to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert for regular updates.
“The unanswered question remains does the justice system have the capability of dispensing justice for all its citizens?” Said Williams.
The family retained Attorney Benjamin Crump who handled high-profile cases including Travon Martin and Michael Brown.
“Since 2015 over 73 families have had to endure similar experiences. Over 70 Black Men have been shot and unarmed. This is oh to often a pattern in America,” said Crump.
Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, will attend Clark’s funeral on Thursday and deliver the eulogy. Sharpton has sent his West Coast representative Rev. Shane R. Harris, president of the San Diego chapter of NAN to provide counsel to the family.
“NAN will stand hand in hand with the groups on the ground to ensure legislation is changed,” said Harris.
“We will not let his name die, his name will live.”
Harris expressed frustration last year with what he says is California’s lack of action on police shootings. He said that California is the bluest and most progressive state in the union, but other states are more advanced on prosecuting police violence. Harris challenged State Attorney General Xavier to take action on this issue.
Sharpton and other members of NAN have lobbied for Assembly Bill 284, the Deadly Force Act, which would have required all police shootings to be investigated by an independent team from the State Attorney General’s office. The bill has stalled in the legislature.
Harris argued AB 284 is needed because local district attorney’s cannot be trusted to conduct objective investigations of police shootings.
“It’s like students grading their own papers,” said Harris.