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After Declining To 'Second Guess' Cops Who Killed Stephon Clark, Sacramento Mayor Calls Shooting 'Just Plain Wrong'

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg at a press conference discussing the Stephon Clark shooting March 22, 2018.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

After the Sacramento Police Department released video footage of Stephon Clark’s shooting last Wednesday, Mayor Darrell Steinberg put out a statement, his first official remarks about the killing of an unarmed black man, who police shot at 20 times in his grandparents’ South Sacramento home.

“I viewed the videos carefully,” read an excerpt from the statement. “Based on the videos alone, I cannot second guess the split-second decisions of our officers.”

Since the videos’ release and his comments, protesters have spilled into Sacramento’s streets, shutting down a freeway, blocking thousands from a Kings game, and marching through Clark’s neighborhood of Meadowview for hours.

In fact, protesters were zig-zagging through the streets of downtown last Friday afternoon during Steinberg’s chat with Capital Public Radio inside his fifth-floor City Hall office.

“It can take a day or two to find your voice as you really reflect what is happening,” Steinberg mentioned during the interview.

The mayor says he still feels very strongly that people should “not to prejudge the results of the investigation about the death of Stephon Clark.” But he added that he wanted to be clear: “Regardless of those questions and the results of the investigation — the outcome — what happened Sunday night was just plain wrong. It’s just plain wrong.”

These are words Steinberg did not include in his initial statement on Wednesday.

Words will continue this Tuesday: City officials have scrapped the scheduled agenda for that night’s city council meeting and instead will hold a “community dialogue” to discuss the shooting. A spokesperson with the local Black Lives Matter chapter, in addition to activists who coordinated some of this past week’s protests and marches and clergy groups, said they intend to show up at the meeting in numbers.

The following is an edited version of the interview with the mayor:

Capital Public Radio: The city has never experienced protests like this in recent memory. What is your response when you see video of people roaming these streets, shutting down freeways and blocking folks from Kings games?

Steinberg: Well, this is a horrible situation. But the question is: What are we going to do about it.

I have a bit of a different reaction to what occurred last night [Thursday] in Sacramento. I know it was chaotic, and walking the freeway is not necessarily a safe thing to do. But what I’m pleased about is that, with all the understandable anger, and all the pain and all the grieving — that between the late-afternoon march and the protest at the Golden 1 Center to all the activities that went on last night — that it was really mostly peaceful. There were no arrests, and nobody got hurt. And I think that speaks to the strength of Sacramento. And the fact that — we got to knock on wood that it continues — that the community responded in an appropriate and strong fashion. …

The police could have arrested people for trespassing at the Golden 1 Center. The Kings could have asked people be arrested for trespassing. They made the right decision in not arresting anybody. Let people vent their understandable outrage and feelings about the death of Stephon Clark.

There are members of the community, especially people of color, who are skeptical of the investigation into the shooting, and doubtful that there will be justice. Do we need an investigation led by an agency outside the Sacramento law-enforcement ecosystem?

Well, I know this: The public, the press, and the city council is looking at every bit of this shooting. And will continue to do so. And there will be an insistence from all of us that, within the law — and there are some state laws that make it difficult to release information — we will be transparent and public as we can be in letting the public know what we know.

I understand the distrust and the skepticism. What I can do is ensure transparency. ...

Would you at least explore or have a conversation about an outside agency conducting the investigation into the shooting?

Of course, I think that’s a discussion that should be had.

When I’m out in the streets covering the protests, what I hear is people saying things like “This wouldn’t happen in East Sacramento,” or “This wouldn’t happen in a white neighborhood.” And not just that this shooting wouldn’t happen. But that, were somebody to report, say, a smash-and-grab of an automobile in a white neighborhood, would police even dispatch officers, let alone a helicopter, for a quality-of-life crime such as that. I know we don’t have the data at our fingertips right here. But I think you understand the sentiment.

But you know what, I think the basic sentiment is true.

So, as a community, how do we proceed? Where does this conversation go?

This is a moment. It’s up to us to choose what to do with that moment. And I choose — and I know our community will choose — to pursue change and reform with our police department, with our community very aggressively.

Another criticism by activists is the information and communication that comes from the Sacramento Police Department. Specifically, there is frustration over how the police disseminated information in the initial hours after a shooting: That Clark had a gun, that he had a “tool bar.” And I’d like to discuss this.

In the 24 hours after a horrible thing like this, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of misinformation from any source, as people are trying to gather the facts and really understand. But I do want to say this: We now have a police chief, and I’ve rarely met a finer communicator among police chiefs and the public officials I’ve worked with over the years. He really understands the importance of communication. … I go back to the fact that he could have waited 27 [more] days to release the video. And that a year-and-a-half ago our policy was not to release any video. And he released it right away.

When those videos were first released, you put out a statement, obviously with condolences to the family, but also a comment about not second-guessing the officers that shot Stephon Clark. And I wanted to revisit that.

I appreciate it. Because what I admitted yesterday [Thursday], what I spoke or wrote inartfully, what I meant was that the video alone doesn’t allow me or us to render a conclusion about legal culpability, or legal liability. And that’s what I meant to say. I just didn’t say it very well.

And so, what I’m clearly saying — and it can take a day or two to find your voice as you really reflect what is happening here — that regardless of the legal conclusions … the outcome was just plain wrong. This young man should not have died. And we need to change all that occurs around not just police community issues, but the broader issues of race, of poverty, of the way we interact with one-another, to try and make change. 

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