How Sacramento's unscripted Stephon Clarke protest Thursday took center state without violence
What began as a Stephon Clark protest at City Hall at 3 p.m. Thursday mushroomed into a movement that captured the nation’s attention, shutting down the I-5 freeway and the King’s game at Golden One.
Organizers said that six-hour demonstration took on a life of its own, attracting hundreds of angry protesters who spoke with their voices and feet and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience in the spirit of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Chanting “no justice, no peace,” “say his name – Stephon Clark,” and “you shoot us down, we shut it down,” an assortment of clergy, community leaders and members of Black Lives Matter let their anger and pain be felt without resorting to violence.
“It was unscripted, and it was beautiful, it was Sacramento at its best,” said Rev. Kevin Ross of Unity of Sacramento, one of more than a dozen pastors, organizers and demonstrators who joined arms around the Golden One Center to both keep the fans out and ensure the interracial army of protestors didn’t engage with armed police and SWAT teams.
“The energy began to expand, you could feel the deep pain throughout this whole demonstration,” said Ross, who was there from start to finish, ”We are very passionate about what we find to be excessive use of force in the case of Stephon Clarke,” Ross said.
“To ` say his name, Stephon Clarke’, was inspiring because we need to humanize this incident. There is so much of this not only in Sacramento but across the country, people become desensitized,” Ross said, his voice breaking. “This man was the father of a one year old and a five year old who will never come home to see his children again.”
The largely peaceful protest Thursday,which seemed to pick up steam as the afternoon stretched into night, evolved spontaneously.
“We had every intention of making sure Sacramento’s voice was heard,” said Ryan McClinton of Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT). “We wanted to start at City Hall to let civic leaders know that standing idly by won’t get it done, and then take to the streets to let people of Sacramento know this is not business as usual.
After the demonstration at City Hall, Tanya Faison , a leader of Black Lives Matter, “fell back and allowed what was unfolding to happen organically, saying she would support whatever action people wanted,” Ross said. “People wanted to continue.”
The protesters marched down I Street to the freeway “ in an act of Civil Disobedience, so people could not drive by without recognizing that a black life was taken from us that should not have been,” McClinton said. For about an hour, they stopped traffic on I-5 “and a lot of folks were blowing horns and supporting us, realizing this really needs to be looked at,” McClinton said.
One semi-truck driver blew his horn loudly in support, “inspiring the marchers even more,” and drivers sat patiently in their cars, being in the moment, Ross added.
When the protestors finally moved off the freeway. One man shouted, “there will be no Kings game today because we’re not playing games, there’s not going to be business as usual today,” Ross recalled, “And people got with that.”
McClinton explained, “we decided we’re not going to allow your comfort and entertainment go on when we can’t be comfortable in our daily lives, we’re not entertained in the midst of pain. We agreed to lock arms and shut down the arena as well.”
“There were some very tense moments, make no mistake about it,” said McClinton. “ I pulled three people up off the ground to keep them from being trampled. “But to manage it peacefully, to keep people safe made it more powerful.”
Thursday's protest, by not devolving into a riot, “made national news, it’s a strong first step in the right direction, this has to be ground zero for change,” McClinton said. “When it comes to excessive force and what is a justified shoot can’t be the same any more, the system is broken, it’s flawed, our military is not allowed to shoot before they’re shot at.”