Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council had a simple plan for Tuesday night: to hold a special session that would allow the public to speak out and ask questions related to the shooting death of Stephon Clark at the hands of two Sacramento police officers. The city’s leaders, knowing that the black citizens of Sacramento were angry and frustrated, held the meeting in an attempt to allow those voices to be heard, but officials got more than they bargained for.
At 5 p.m. local time, Steinberg called the meeting to order. He announced that the session would go until 11 p.m. in order to allow everyone to get a chance to speak. If all speakers were not heard on Tuesday, Steinberg said, they would resume again at 1 p.m. Wednesday and continue into the night. He made it clear that the city wanted to hear from as many people as possible.
Steinberg then turned the floor over to council members to make introductory speeches, but before Councilman Larry Carr could finish his, the meeting was interrupted by Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante, who jumped on top of the desk Steinberg was sitting behind and began leading the gathered crowd in a chant of his brother’s name.
It was reminiscent of the previous day’s NAACP-National Action Network protest, where Stevante did the same thing.
Once Stevante Clark had the crowd’s attention, he approached the public speaking podium and began addressing the crowd.
“The mayor and the City Council have failed you,” Clark said.
Steinberg repeatedly tried to get Clark to stop talking, but after he was met with the angry cries of the crowd telling him to “shut up,” he let Clark speak.
Clark addressed the poverty in the city of Sacramento as well as issues like gangbanging, saying that it had to stop and things had to change.
Steinberg called a 15-minute recess so that order could be restored. When the meeting resumed, he said that he would be moving directly to the public comments. Police Chief Daniel Hahn and District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert were also on-site to give special presentations, Steinberg said.
One of the first speakers at the podium was Jackie Rose, who said that she was from the same Meadowview neighborhood where Stephon Clark was killed. She told the council that the trauma in the black community of Sacramento began well before the shooting of Clark.
Her sentiments about the pain, suffering and trauma of black people in Sacramento were echoed by Tanya Faison—leader of Black Lives Matter Sacramento—who said that she was offended by statements by Chief Hahn calling for peace and calm in the wake of Stephon Clark’s shooting death.
“You can’t tell people how to grieve,” Faison said.
“It feels like genocide. You’re killing us. We’re fighting for too many people,” she added.
Faison called for the officers who shot Clark to be fired and said, “When there’s repercussions for them shooting us in the street, that’s when you will see change.”
Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth, stepped to the podium and summed up the atmosphere in the city with one statement: “Sacramento is just like Ferguson [in Missouri].”
He then asked everyone in the room to stand up and pull out their cellphones. When they did, he instructed them to point them toward the members of the City Council.
“Does this look like a gun?” Accius asked.
As speakers, one by one, took the podium to address their concerns, the atmosphere outside the meeting hall grew more and more tense.
A group of 100 or more activists had gathered outside City Hall, holding signs and chanting Stephon Clark’s name. Some of them began banging on the windows of the meeting hall.
The group eventually made their way inside the foyer of City Hall, and their chants grew louder, providing a haunting soundtrack to the meeting inside.
Although police officers formed a line to prevent the protesters from storming the meeting hall, they mostly took a hands-off approach.
Only one person was reported to have been arrested during the proceedings.
Well into the night, religious and community leaders took turns at the mic, imploring the mayor and the City Council to put action behind their words and fix the problems with the city’s Police Department.
“Enough is enough” seemed to be the common refrain.
“We’re tired” was the overall mood.
Indeed. The extrajudicial shootings of black men by police officers continue to be an ongoing issue, and beyond making speeches and giving us their thoughts and prayers, city leaders across the country don’t seem able or willing to take any type of direct action to prevent these incidents from happening again.
Until they do, we will continue to see citizens gathered, raising their voices in protest.
This country’s entire history is steeped in protest, and no matter what form it takes, it should not be condemned just because it’s black people protesting in the fight for black lives.