At Stephon Clark rally, families of victims of police violence call for justice and accountability
SACRAMENTO, California — Cecilia McClinton wishes she was cooking Easter dinner this weekend with her uncle, Joseph Mann, a black man killed by Sacramento police in 2016. On Saturday, she spent time with other families who have lost loved ones in violent incidents involving area police.
“Nobody knows unless you lived it — we live it every holiday, every occasion,” McClinton, 35, said after delivering a tearful speech to hundreds gathered to rally around Stephon Clark.
He is the 22-year-old unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police officers on March 18 in his grandparents’ backyard. Clark’s death is reigniting a national furor around officer-involved killings.
Amid a fourth straight day of protests, the families who gathered downtown for Clark’s rally in Cesar Chavez Plaza aimed to send a clear message. Police violence tears at the fabric of families already hanging on by a thread, under a system bent toward disproportionately criminalizing people of color and that continually fails to hold officers who kill citizens accountable, they said. The families find some solace in rallies, although their heartbreak is renewed as the list of families grows.
“It feels good [to see the support] — but it’s like heartbreaking at the same time because it’s like you relive it over and over, every time somebody is shot,” McClinton said.
Two officers shot Mann, McClinton’s uncle, 18 times, believing incorrectly that he had a gun. Officers Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, who reportedly left the Sacramento Police Department in 2017, had used slightly fewer bullets than officers used on Clark.
They fired on Clark 20 times, also believing he had a gun. But Clark, a father of two young boys, was only holding a cell phone.
The officers, who have not been officially identified, were responding to a 911 call in which a man reported having windows broken on his vehicle in a South Sacramento neighborhood. Family and friends of Clark’s said a Sacramento sheriff’s helicopter that directed officers to the grandparents’ home in Meadowview must have assumed he was the vandal. Official police statements have not officially identified Clark as that person.
Clark was knocking on a bedroom window so that someone sleeping inside would open up, family members said. Officers gave him verbal commands, before opening fire seconds later, body-camera footage shows.
The officers have been placed on administrative leave, while an investigation is underway. The state attorney general’s office has opened a separate probe into Clark’s death.
An independent autopsy, ordered by the family’s attorney and revealed publicly on Friday, showed Clark was shot in his back and side at least seven times. The entry wounds seem to contradict a police claim that Clark had faced officers and advanced forward with his arms extended.
At the rally, relatives and friends of Clark said they will not stop fighting until police are held accountable for his death.
“When they took Zoe from us, they took our smile,” Kristena Rodriquez-Johnson, a woman whose son was close to Clark and considered herself a mother figure to him, said during Saturday’s rally. (Zoe, short for Alonzo, is a nickname that family and friends use for Clark.)
“I want you to know one thing about him,” Rodriguez-Johnson said. “He was humble. He was smart. He loved, loved, loved this town. He loved his grandparents. He loved his family and his friends and his boys.”
Everyone in the human race should be outraged by Clark’s death, Curtis Gordon, Clark’s uncle, said at the rally. “It’s something to grieve for a lost one, it’s something to grieve in public,” he said. “God forbid another person in this nation has to go through that. Sadly, the likelihood is it’s going to happen. Because nothing seems to change when it comes to a silhouette that’s dark and an officer.
“You guys may forget, but we really live this every day.”
The rally was organized by former NBA player Matt Barnes, a Sacramento native, and drew a wide breadth of community members and civil rights groups, including local chapters of the NAACP and the National Action Network.
Days after Clark’s shooting death, the Sacramento Kings publicly expressed support for the family and protesters. Garrett Temple, a Kings player, attended the rally ahead of a game against the Golden Gate Warriors later that evening. The Kings also announced a partnership with a local Black Lives Matter chapter and the Build. Black. Coalition aimed at providing workforce preparation and economic development in Sacramento.
A number of people who spoke to Mic at the rally and at other events for Clark on Saturday said they didn’t see the shooting as a local issue. Clark’s shooting death fits the narrative of targeting and rush to judgment by police against black people, protesters said. Federal data shows that black Americans are twice as likely as white people to be shot by a law enforcement officer. And in 2017, blacks were 23% of the nearly 1,000 people shot and killed by law enforcement — this is disproportionate to the black U.S. population, which is about 13%.
Local BLM activists say they’ve kept a list of people who were killed by or survived brutal encounters with police in Sacramento and the surrounding area. Since 2015, not one of the more than a dozen cases has resulted in charges against officers, a group organizer said.
Clark’s death resonated with Latisha Williams, the sister of Desmond Phillips, who was killed by police in Chico, California, in March 2017. Williams drove an hour from Chico with her 19-year-old son, Chad Ingram, and her 7-month-old girl to attend the rally.
“I came because, basically, it hit home,” Williams said during the rally. She did not join other families who spoke from a stage. “It’s like [police are] clocking in to kill black people.”
Phillips was 25 years old and known to be living with a mental illness when Chico officers fired 16 shots at him inside of his father’s apartment on March 17, 2017. They struck him 10 times while Ingram, his nephew, and David Phillips Sr., his father, were also inside. The elder Phillips had called 911 for help because his son was experiencing a mental health crisis. In April 2017, the Butte County district attorney’s office determined the shooting was justified, as officers said they feared Desmond Phillips intended to stab them with a sharp object.
“We are still trying to get the officers that are responsible for my brother’s death indicted on criminal charges,” Williams said. “My hope is that we’ll have justice for everybody that was murdered by the police.”
An evening vigil for Stephon Clark started out peaceful, but clashes with police left one woman injured on Saturday. Mic senior writer Aaron L. Morrison reports: