When Cries Of “Stop Killing Us” and the NBA Collide

On Sunday night in the Meadowview neighborhood, two Sacramento police officers entered a backyard. They encountered the man they had been chasing, Stephon Clark, a father of two. They shot him 20 times, and discovered the “weapon” they feared. It was an iPhone.

Minutes before chaos ensued, one of the officers yelled at Clark in the driveway, “Hey show me your hands . Stop. Stop.” Clark ran and they chased him into the backyard of his grandmother’s house. “Show me your hands” was followed by “Gun, Gun.” Two officers then shot him. Over. And over. Clark tried to move but he was shot again. And then he died, even as the police began CPR.

What the Sacramento Police want you to know is that the officers felt “threatened”. On the video, an officer who arrives at the scene in the aftermath asks, “what did he have on him?” The answer: “it looked like a gun from our perspective.”

Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, told the Sacramento Bee, “I was scared. We heard gunshots. I let the police in. They didn’t tell me nothing was going on. They just said it was a crime scene. They asked me questions. I told them I heard gunshots. They asked did I hear anyone talking. I told them all I heard was gunshots. Hours later they told me there was a victim in my backyard. I opened up the curtains and he was dead.”

The police reply, “The officers believed the suspect [breaking car windows] was pointing a firearm at them. Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons, striking the suspect multiple times.”

Outraged citizens held a protest that began at City Hall, shut down I-5 and ended up at the Golden 1 Center where the Kings were set to play the Atlanta Hawks. Protestors blocked fans entry by linking arms. The arena was put on lockdown and fans inside were told they could move down to the expensive seats since no one was allowed in but they couldn’t leave, the doors were locked.

The Kings released their own statement. “Tonight’s game began with a delay. Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home.”

The Police Chief of Sacramento, their first black top cop, Daniel Hahn, released the body cam video right away.  “Do I believe he [Stephon Clark] was the one based on what we now know? I believe that, yeah but can we factually say it yet? No. But when and if we can, we will put that out.”

The Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, initially said he wouldn’t second guess the decision of the officers.

The video doesn’t really clear things up. First, it’s very dark since the activity happened at night. The question that seems to linger in the aftermath is how do they [police] make the calculation that a man breaking car windows, as reported by an overhead helicopter, has a gun? Plus, all the officers at the scene didn’t have their body cameras on. The officers didn’t appear to wait for additional help before they ran in and started shooting. How could they with certainty make out the definition of what was in his hand? The darkness was aided by the helicopter light but it left the object murky in the darkness, just an outline.  More importantly, did the alleged crime of smashing windows deserve the deadly response of rushing in and shooting? Was Stephon Clark holding the cell phone because he was trying to videorecord the police? The police talk about their fear but what if Stephon Clark was afraid too? When fear intersects, why is someone always dead?

Two years ago, two members of the Sacramento Police Department, Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, responded to a 911 call.  A mentally ill resident of the city, Joseph Mann, was in the street behaving peculiarly.  Picked up on the dashcam video, an officer said, “F*ck this guy, I’m going to hit him” [with the car]. The other officer said, “Okay.” They missed Mann twice with the car then chased him down on foot. They shot him 18 times, striking him dead. It was estimated that Mann was 27 feet away from the officers. He had a knife but not a gun.

The District Attorney said the police were defending themselves and protecting the public. The family settled with the city, $719,000.