Updated March 2, 11:12 a.m.
The Sacramento County District Attorney will announce Saturday whether or not it plans to charge the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark. CapRadio will cover the announcement live just before noon. Listen at 90.9 FM or player.capradio.org
The Sacramento County district attorney’s office has announced it will release its decision whether to criminally charge the police officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark Saturday. California’s capital city is on edge awaiting a decision that could plunge it into demonstrations and, some fear, riots.
DA Anne-Marie Schubert’s office announced the decision would be released during a press conference Saturday at noon.
Friday workers at downtown Sacramento businesses said they were advised by their superiors not to go to work this weekend, and business associations have sent emails to their members advising how to respond if demonstrators arrive near their storefronts.
Meanwhile, at the state Capitol, Senate and Assembly sergeants-at-arms sent memos to all lawmakers and staff Friday advising legislators and employees to “avoid coming into the Capitol” Friday night and over the weekend in anticipation of “increased crowds and traffic that may occur in and around the downtown Sacramento area as a result of the announcement.”
On Friday, at a special afternoon meeting inside City Hall, leaders from Sacramento’s black community gathered with Chief of Police Daniel Hahn, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and others to discuss plans for after the DA’s announcement.
“I cannot predict what will happen, but I am very proud of this community,” the mayor said on Friday. “If the DA does not bring charges, there is going to be anger. And we have to support that. At the same time, we want to keep the peace in the community, and we want to work toward justice.”
Those at Friday’s meeting are not organizing a formal march, but they expect an outpouring of anger, particularly from young people. The city and community leaders hope to direct people to a number of “healing stations,” where community members can hydrate, seek counseling and creatively express their feelings.
“Let’s try to give the energy some level of order,” said Pastor Tamara Bennett, who attended the meeting. “Whatever goes down, we need our city to be at peace.”
Those inside the City Hall meeting room aren’t the only people anticipating the DA’s decision. As Sacramento awaits, stakeholders across the city — from social-justice activists to the Clark family — are considering how they might respond.
‘Any moment now’
For the Clark family, it’s been nearly a year of pain, rage and anxious waiting.
Stephon Clark died March 18 after Sacramento police responded to a 911 call of a man breaking car windows in the South Sacramento neighborhood of Meadowview. Two officers pursued Clark into a backyard — which they later learned was his grandmother’s home — where they shot him eight times. The officers said they believed Clark had a gun, but police only discovered a cell phone next to his body.
Saturday the family could get a decision that could move the needle toward justice, or re-open the wounds of the tragedy that changed their lives forever.
“Any moment now the district attorney could come out with findings, we don’t know,” said Stevante Clark at his grandmother’s dining room table, just feet away from the backyard where his younger brother was killed.
“And that could either be another f----d up moment in my life, or it could be like ‘OK, criminal justice charges have been posed against these guys, maybe we can get them off the street now.’ So, it’s hard. Because you just don’t know,” Stevante Clark said.
Uncertainty has lingered over the family for months. Meanwhile, neighborhood groups have launched youth programs, elected officials have promised more investment and Sacramentans of all stripes have had conversations about race and power that wouldn’t have surfaced before Stephon Clark’s death. But that only goes so far for the siblings, parents and children he left behind.
“Money would never fix the pain,” Stevante Clark said. “Condolences and prayers and thoughts will never fix the pain ... New foot pursuit policies are nice, but it doesn’t change anything. That damage has been done.”
He has repeatedly vowed not to let his brother be forgotten, pushing for more city funds in the Meadowview neighborhood and a resource center with his brother’s name on it.
Jamilia Land, a friend of the Clark family, says part of holding up Stephon Clark’s legacy means pushing for change to law enforcement protocols. The march she’s planning around the district attorney decision will largely focus on Assembly Bill 392, which would redefine when police officers can legally use deadly force. She’s calling on Meadowview residents and other supporters to rally behind the bill.
“As we approach this DA’s announcement, I would ask them to take every single ounce of anger and pain and frustration and hatred that they have and channel that energy into a movement that’s never been seen before,” Land said.
For the past weeks she’s been working with city officials and community leaders to make preparations for the event.
“People are hurting, people are upset, and rightfully so,” she said. “But we have an opportunity here to really change the landscape of this thing, and recognize that here in California we have a problem.”
Kristee Haggins, a psychologist who focuses on health and wellness in the black community, has been working with volunteers for the last year to host safe spaces where people can vent their frustrations about racism, injustice and other issues.
She says her teams are ready to mobilize and address a range of reactions after the DA announcement. She expects people will have the urge to become destructive.
“We may not always be able to control our capacity to deal with our anger or our rage,” Haggins said.
‘Everyone believes that the moment is going to be like a Ferguson’
Activists are preparing for what they say is inevitable. “Majority of us believe that it will be the police officers walking,” said Community Activist Berry Accius.
Accius says it’s hard to tell how people will respond if the D.A. doesn’t charge the two officers. But he says, “our reaction is not going to be the reaction of frustration because we already have been frustrated through the process.”
Accius recently met at city hall with officials, they wanted to know how demonstrators might respond if the D.A. doesn't press charges.
"If [they] believe there's going to be some justice served, why would we be having these meetings,” Accius explains. “Everyone believes that the moment is going to be like a Ferguson."
Accius says this moment is about more than protesting the D.A.'s presumed decision. "Is justice really those officers getting fired? Because Stephon Clark is still dead,” Accius adds. “Those two babies still don't have a father.
That message resonates with Tanya Faison who runs Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
“We want accountability in our police department and our sheriff department,” Faison said. “Right now, they have no real oversight, they don’t have any repercussions that we know about for the actions they take if they are wrong. We want officers to be treated just like if we messed up our job.”
This week marks the group's 49th week of protests in front of the Sacramento County D.A.'s office.
They barbecue, play music and stand outside with signs saying things like “D.A Schubert is GUILTY of Racial Terror. As a result, the DA put up a chain link fence around the office building in Downtown Sacramento. Black Lives Matter even had a birthday party for the fence with a pinata and cake.
“We fed the fence cake . . . we make the best of why we are out here,” Faison said.
Faison admits active members have dropped from 30 to 13, but she says their message is growing. "Since Stephon other people have been killed by law enforcement. Brandon Smith, Darell Richards, Marshall Miles,” said Faison. “We're always adding those names to the fight."
‘It's a time for healing’
The Sacramento Police Department has had officers on standby for some time, according to spokesman Vance Chandler. He says the department wants to be ready to respond to keep the peace during a demonstration.
"We've been waiting because we anticipate a decision coming out at any time," Chandler said.
He confirmed that the chief has been meeting with the mayor and the public every Friday.
"The objective of those meetings is to work together with community leaders to keep calm in our entire city," Chandler said.
At those meetings, some in the room have pushed to support Assembly Bill 392, which addresses restricting police officer use of force. Proponents of backing the bill argue this is a way of empowering riled-up crowds toward a single cause, but others at the meeting felt supporting it could be a set-up for failure.
Community leaders say whatever happens when the DA announces her office’s decision, they plan to keep black residents engaged in advocating for more neighborhood investment and better relationships with law enforcement. They’re planning a series of events for this purpose throughout March.
Pastor Anthony Sadler says several churches across the county will open their doors to the community to gather and express their views. He will be holding a “healing zone” at Ephraim Williams Family Life Center when the announcement is made.
"We just want to ensure there are peaceful marches and protest. We don't want anybody to get hurt,” the pastor said.
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