Love in the time of chaos: Black Lives Matter in 2018 Sacramento

Protesters march in the wake of Sacramento Police killing Stephon Clark, an unarmed, 22-year-old Black man. [Photo: Rudy Ruiz]

I shoveled garlic naan and butter chicken in my mouth at Curry Corner with my sister-in-law, Maura, on my birthday. She had worked the night shift and was wearing sweats. Her nails were manicured. We talked about teaching jobs and how fake nails are unsanitary for medical professionals. I sat across from her, proud of my aesthetic, sangria faux lace shirt reminiscent of the fashion of the ’70s paired with leggings, as the sun shone through the glass, crowning our faces. Later, I went to class.

While I was learning how to test kids for special education eligibility, I could have been at the third protest led by Black Lives Matter Sacramento to demand justice for 22-year-old Stephon Clark. You’ve heard his name. It has been lamented, lifted up and extracted from Sacramento’s pain from The New York Times to BBC. Some locals have been surprised that Clark’s character has remained largely unattacked as a loving family man.

The recently deceased father, smiling and holding his two toddlers beside their mother, Salena Manni, seen on signs spanning the nation, has enveloped news broadcasts and social media daily since his death. There are folks, even people I love, people with light skin like me who have never lived in Meadowview, where Clark lived, who diminish the inhumaneness of Stephon being shot fatally eight times from behind in his backyard in response to a call that someone in the neighborhood was breaking into cars.

The facts remain. A “toolbar,” which initial police reports claim Stephon held at the time of the shooting, does not look like a cellphone. A gun does not look like a cellphone. But a Black man will always look like a Black man. Lack of proper deescalation training will continue resulting in death for Black people, as we have seen. Putting officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who killed Stephon, back in similar situations without substantial consequences will not decrease their threat or make Sacramento safer. I know this because I know the basics of applied behavioral analysis; I was a behavioral therapist.

A protester stands in front of Sacramento Police Department officers. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

We know the stories of Black people assaulted by police, stories dominated by discussions on victims’ past behaviors, justifications scrapped together, cognitive dissonance on why victims’ lives ended prematurely. We know that white men like Brock Turner are labeled first for their accomplishments, not their crimes, and that white supremacist terrorists like Dylan Roof are protected by police with bulletproof vests, while law-abiding Black folks are met with suspicion, distrust and ultimately death for moving in their own backyard. Here in Sacramento we know this: Stephon’s death was racially motivated.

One of my role models, a local writer, taught Stephon at Sacramento Charter High School, where he played football. I saw her at the first protest on March 22 in front of Golden 1 Center, where we blocked Sacramento Kings fans from entering the stadium for the first time. I asked her how she was doing, which was probably the least sensitive question I could have muttered. We hugged. When our Black Lives Matter community leaders instructed us to link arms around the stadium, my close friend Denise and I ran to use the Starbucks restroom, with Jen, a new friend, a medical professional from Oakland who had driven to the protest alone. We met her after we had taken the freeway and marched to the Capitol, not realizing that we should be at the game.

Denise and I had been marching and chanting for at least two hours at that point. When we came back, we linked arms with strangers who warmly made space for us, directly in front of the arena. Jen lent me her sweater. Fellow protesters passed us bottles of water. Throughout the night, Zac, a tall, Black man with a gentle disposition, and various BLM leaders led chants to honor Stephon and demand that the cops who shot at him 20 times be indicted.

A protester holds up a Black Lives Matter sign in Sacramento, CA. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

Zac, who is not originally from California, and I met at the Reclaim MLK March by Black Lives Matter Sacramento a few months ago. Over Jimboy’s that day, we conversed with a young, white man with special needs who asked if we wanted to watch his Youtube videos. Zac smiled and nodded, in no rush for the man to leave. When I told him I needed help uploading a credential-related assignment, Zac showed up to help later in the day. We walked together at the Women’s March, too. This is something you will notice about intersectional activists. We have your back. We want our community to succeed.

It has been off-putting to witness comments of support from Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Sacramento City Council in response to another instance of police brutality. Some of my friends, activists for BLM and homeless rights, attend city council meetings frequently. Calling out our city for its pretense is nothing new. Black Lives Matter Sacramento has been demanding accountability for the death of Joseph Mann, an unhomed man with mental illness, ever since he was killed by Sacramento police in 2016. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is campaigning for reelection, cleared officers Randy Lozoya and John Tennis of Mann’s killing over a year ago, despite a recording of them saying they wanted to hit Mann with their car. They shot at him 14 times.

This is just one case. If you watch or attend city council meetings, you will hear a communal plea for justice and resources time and time again, and perpetually, the mayor’s silence. Sacramento’s reluctance to recognize Black people as deserving of justice is not made up. Go to a meeting and you will see the men and one woman in suits, our public servants, “looking at speakers,” then at their cellphones or each other, smirking. With subsidized investments like the Golden 1 Center and La Cosecha by Mayahuel, inclusive words of promise from politicians have remained just words, manifesting in higher rates of homelessness and people of color being booted out of neighborhoods where they grew up.

Sacramento wants to be loved for its diversity but not enough to protect Black Sacramentans. Blackness is not something that should be used as a commodity to be dismissed when the cameras are off. Black people are important for the simple fact that they are people, no matter their socioeconomic status.

I am privileged due to my skin color and parents’ income, and I can see that Black people are disproportionately targeted for violence, then blamed for being violent in response to a system that hurts and silences them. I see this because I trust and listen to Black people in my community and beyond, and because I have eyes. I know the history of our country. Black pain is real.

When we say, “Indict. Convict. Send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” it is to testify that we are aware of the conflicts of interest shaping preferential treatment of police. District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has accepted donations from Sheriff Scott Jones and is endorsed by the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association. This parallels the trend of police going on administrative leave and getting excused from charges when convicted. If they are convicted. Some day, our public servants, as we call them, might know what it means to make decisions in public interest without the sway of money. But until that day, we cannot give up the fight for Black and brown folks. The system already has.

Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante speaks into a megaphone at a protest. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

Stevante Clark, Stephon’s brother, who has lost two brothers to gun violence, continues to be judged for his grief. If cameras were following us to document every action, we might be sensationalized, too. There is no recording that captures the immediacy with which Stevante’s brother was stolen. My heart goes out to his family. There is no understanding what they are going through if this has not been your experience. Pretending to know what that grief feels like does not help the mourning family or the community, even if the intention is sincere. Pain is not a spectacle. Pain emerges from loving deeply and having someone taken away. Our responsive support is the best thing we can do to help.

Skimming California Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, most would see that it can be difficult to prosecute officers for use of lethal force despite civilian compliance if the officers were afraid for their lives. However, announcing that extreme force might be used, giving warning when “feasible,” and “[reassessing] the perceived threat” is protocol that Sacramento police failed to follow as officers approached Stephon, explains John Burris, a well-known civil rights attorney in San Francisco who contributed input on police department policy to Sacramento City Council following the killing of 51-year-old Joseph Mann.

Controlling Black people is part of the fabric of America. Denying Black experiences is part of our history. Unaddressed biases prescribe who is convicted of crime, who looks “suspicious,” and who does not. Our nation’s resistance to hearing and making space for Black people’s ideas and hopes is another kind of death. Listening to Black people is crucial to supporting their right to life. Reading Black history and listening to pain, empathizing, leads to respect and encourages friendship and appreciation of each other’s humanity. Talking to local representatives and not forgetting that Black lives matter tomorrow or next week or next month will help. It really is up to us. This life is a gift. If you are still here, there is no reason that we cannot take care of each other.

As we reflect on this senseless tragedy, this killing, it is our responsibility to hold our community dearly. We are not separate from this infliction of pain. There is no impartiality in the face of racist execution. Sacramento, we can set a precedent for our nation. Enough is enough. We can do better for our community in refusing to ignore the over-policing of Black and brown people. “We must love and protect one another,” as BLM Sacramento reminds us each day we meet.

On Friday night, we sang and danced past clubs and restaurants on K Street, gathering around a young woman stepping, rhythmic in our refusal to be defeated. Revolutionary joy was unrestricted, a flurry of ages, religions, orientations and skin colors, melding together on streets that have only been safe for some of us. Our heads held high, bodies swaying in neon lights, our message was our togetherness as we amplified our love of Black lives, led by women of BLM,  “I believe that we will win. I know that we gon’ win.”

Names in this essay have been changed for protection from law enforcement retribution.


Claire White on Email
Claire White
Claire White
Claire White is a native Sacramentan who supports students with creative writing. She is involved in the local arts and media scene.