Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter on Tuesday for killing George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man whose death brought forth calls to defund the police and sparked massive worldwide protests for racial justice, including weeks of action in Sacramento.
Stevante Clark, whose 22-year-old brother Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police in 2018, said while there’s more work to be done, “slow progress is better than no progress.”
“I’ve always said that Derek Chauvin was in the courtroom, but America was on trial,” Clark said. “And I’ve always said as well that there’s a difference between justice and accountability. We are still fighting for justice. We just seen accountability.”
Clark was at Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Sacramento when a Minnesota judge read off the three guilty verdicts that sent Chauvin to jail while he awaits sentencing. Since his brother Stephon’s death in 2018, Sacramento has seen large-scale protests all over the city.
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Those demonstrations were heightened last summer after Floyd’s murder.
Sacramento organizer Sonia Lewis has been among those at those forefront of local demonstrations. Like many others who have for decades seen police officers kill and harm unarmed Black Americans without being convicted of a crime, Lewis said she had been emotionally preparing for a different verdict.
“I have watched every moment of all these big trials, and we have been disappointed and justice has not prevailed,” Lewis said. "Leading up to today has been extremely emotional.”
She added that when she heard the judge read of the guilty verdicts, she was surprised, but not necessarily in a joyful way.
“Justice is not a guilty verdict. Justice is allowing Black people to live,” Lewis said. “I cannot be happy for George Floyd’s family because George Floyd is no longer here with them.”
Other local activists and organizers agreed.
Asantewaa Boykin, cofounder of the Anti-Police Terror Project, said she also felt relief upon hearing the verdict, but she added that the work isn’t done with just one trial.
“It’s not enough to incarcerate bad apples when the entire system is guilty,” Boykin said. “Just since the trial’s been going on, there’s been a number of folks who have died at the hands of police, and I think that’s a testament to the fact that it’s a public health crisis.”
In recent weeks, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man from Minnesota, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. The officer who shot Wright, Kim Porter, was a 26-year veteran with the Brooklyn Center Police Department who resigned shortly after the shooting. She was later charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Meg White co-founded Justice Unites Individuals and Communities Everywhere (JUICE) the summer Floyd was killed. She said her organization’s fight for justice in police killings — specifically those in Sacramento — won’t stop just because of one ruling.
“This is a drop in the bucket,” she said. “I think we’re still quite a ways away from law enforcement in Sacramento being a lot less racist and more ethical.”
She added that while she was surprised by the guilty verdict, she doesn’t believe it will lead to widespread change.
“I feel like in general, it’s not like just Derek Chauvin was guilty, the whole system was guilty of overpolicing, the whole system is guilty of tons of physical and emotional abuse specifically of Black and Brown people,” White said.
Many organizers said they didn’t watch many details of the Chauvin trial, as it was too emotionally difficult to follow.
Bishoy Abdelshaid of Black Lives Matter Sacramento didn’t tune into most of the trial, but said he was happy to hear the verdict and wants other Black Americans to “sit in the joy you may have, sit in the happiness you may feel from this.”
For allies and non-Black people, Abdelshaid said the verdict should not signify the end of the racial reckoning that began over the summer.
“For non-Black folks and all allies and accomplices, this is not a time to sit down, this is not a time to pause, this is a time where we’ve seen the strength of the people so the people need to keep pushing.”
Sacramento’s Response To Police Killings
Local activists had been preparing for action regardless of the verdict — just as they have for the myriad other examples of racial injustice across the United States.
Floyd’s death led to weeks of demonstrations in Sacramento last summer, some of which resulted in property destruction downtown. In response, the National Guard was called in to protect state buildings, more than 100 people were arrested in the first five days, and some protesters were shot with projectiles.
In reaction to police killings of Daunte Wright, 20, in Minnesota and Adam Toledo, 13, in Chicago, protesters last week held a vigil on the steps of Sacramento City Hall and marched through downtown streets on two separate nights. There were no arrests on either night according to the Sacramento Police Department, though they are investigating several instances of vandalism. The department said four officers were sent to the hospital after “being sprayed with an [unknown] liquid irritant.”
Sacramento organizers also held protests between 2014 and 2017, in response to the growing number of high-profile and local police killings — including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Joseph Mann in Sacramento, and Philando Castille in Minnesota.
But in 2018, Sacramento was in the national spotlight.
Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old father from Sacramento, was killed by two police officers in the backyard of his grandmother’s Meadowview home. Clark’s death led to national civil unrest, and sparked months of protests locally. Activists shut down a Sacramento Kings game at the Golden 1 Center, occupied the freeway, marched through Meadowview, and interrupted City Council meetings.
Nearly a year after his death, both Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that they would not file criminal charges against the two officers who killed Clark.
After Schubert’s announcement, demonstrations started again — this time with renewed focus on affluent areas of the city and places that generate money. Eighty-four people were arrested after marching through the streets of East Sacramento; and youth demonstrators held a sit-in at Arden Fair Mall.
Clark’s death and subsequent demonstrations forced change within the state, city and police department. Less than a month after the shooting, the police department changed its policy around muting body cameras. The police department also changed its foot pursuit policy, making officers consider their own safety, danger to the public and suspect and the importance of making an arrest.
The state Legislature increased police records transparency in California, allowing police department personnel records available through public records requests. Not all departments have been forthcoming with the records since.
Gov. Gavin Newsom later signed a bill dubbed the “Stephon Clark Law” that would change the use-of-force standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.”
CapRadio's Scott Rodd contributed to this reporting
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