Under the watchful eye of a hovering police helicopter, more than 200 Sacramento students walked out of classes Thursday to demand stricter use-of-force laws in the wake of the decision not to charge officers who shot an unarmed black man here last year.
With shouts of “Say his name, Stephon Clark,” they met on the steps of the state Capitol after a peaceful, five-hour march that wound through the city, collecting students from different campuses along the way.
Community college student Jason Whitfield, 22, said he took part because he identified with Clark.
“Sometimes when I walk around, or even in the car with my mom when I’m wearing a hoodie, we get pulled over,” Whitfield said. “Imagine if I was outside my house and agents shot me.”
Clark, 22, was shot by two Sacramento police officers who were responding to a vandalism call. A subsequent investigation found Clark had broken windows on three vehicles and a sliding glass door. The officers were directed to Clark by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter and chased him into a dark backyard — later determined to be at his grandmother’s house — where they mistook his cellphone for a gun and fired 20 shots, striking him at least seven times. Clark died at the scene.
Both the Sacramento County district attorney and the state attorney general released investigations that found the shooting justified, decisions that have sparked a week of protests in the city. On Monday night, 84 people were arrested after a protest in an affluent neighborhood where demonstrations rarely take place. A Sacramento City Council meeting was briefly shut down Tuesday night as demonstrators protested the arrests, which included three journalists.
The student demonstrators came to the Capitol in support of Assembly Bill 392, which would curtail when law enforcement can use deadly force and make it easier to prosecute officers in deadly incidents. One of the authors of the bill, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) spoke to the crowd, saying police reform was “an important issue for our generation.”
The legislation has been in the spotlight since the Clark investigations were released, and Clark’s family has been vocal in support. Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, and his grandmother, Sequita Thompson, appeared at a separate rally earlier in the day to support it.
At the student rally, Stephon Clark’s cousin, Jade Dismukes, 15, was representing the family. She had walked two miles from the charter high school where Clark had also been a student.