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Why Are So Many Unarmed Black People Being Killed by Police? Sacramento Activist Speaks Out

Web ExclusiveMarch 30, 2018
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In Sacramento, California, hundreds of mourners gathered Thursday for the funeral of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American man who was shot by police officers 20 times in his grandmother’s backyard. We continue our conversation with Sacramento activist Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our coverage of the Stephon Clark police killing in Sacramento, California. The family of Stephon Clark is holding his funeral today, as protests continue against the police shooting that killed the unarmed African-American father of two in his grandmother’s backyard. Stephon was shot by Sacramento police 20 times on March 18th. Police first claimed he was holding a gun. They later admitted they only found his cellphone near his body.

This is Stephon Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, speaking at a powerful news conference Monday.

SEQUITA THOMPSON: My grandson was 23 years old. And then, now my great-grandbabies don’t have their daddy, because they didn’t even stop. Why didn’t you just shoot him in the arm, shoot him in the leg, send the dogs, send a taser? Why? Why? You all didn’t have to do that. You all didn’t have to—over a cellphone. I just want justice for my grandson, for my daughter, my poor babies. They’re in so much pain. She’s in pain, and the brothers. He’s got two brothers. Justice. I want justice for my baby! I want justice for Stephon Clark! Please, give us justice!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Stephon Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson.This is California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaking on Tuesday.

ATTORNEY GENERAL XAVIER BECERRA: The California Department of Justice will now step in and provide independent oversight of this investigation into the shooting of Stephon Clark. My team and I at the California Department of Justice will do everything in our power to ensure that this investigation is fair, thorough and impartial. I also want to thank and respect Chief Hahn for agreeing that the California Department of Justice’s involvement in this matter will extend to include a review of the policing policies, procedures and practices at the Sacramento Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: As protests continue over Stephon Clark’s killing, his funeral is scheduled to take place today. We’ll go now to Sacramento, California, to continue our conversation with Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth in Sacramento.

Berry, in Part 1 of this conversation, we talked about what you understood happened on that day. But describe the neighborhood, why at this point, as the family reconstructs what happened, where Stephon was, and how these police officers came to kill him in a hail of 20 bullets.

BERRY ACCIUS: Well, the unfortunate thing about this community, though it’s resilient and rich in spirit, there’s no opportunity there. There’s nothing. There’s nothing that you can grab. I mean, you have a liquor store. You have a bunch of churches. We have about 20 churches on one street. And you don’t have one thing that’s culturally relevant as far as the majority of that community, black residents. It has nothing that resonates, except a major community center, which is decent. But across the freeway, you have a place called Delta Shores that’s striving, that shows opportunity.

So, in that moment, when you’re looking at this place and how dark it was, the bad lighting in this community, the fact that individuals, the police officers, who know that they’re coming into a neighborhood that’s overly policed and a neighborhood that has some kind of different criminal activity, it was like they just was headhunting. And the fact that this young man was gunned down—and we still don’t really know if he was this alleged suspect. We still don’t really know what he allegedly did to be assassinated.

It’s just mind-boggling that this new police regime, that a lot of us pushed for, the policies that we have kind of influenced for the city council to embark on this police so things like this wouldn’t happen, it wasn’t used. My thing is: Why wasn’t nonlethal weapons used at this point? Why didn’t you guys clearly say that we were the police? There was no clear recognition of—for Stephon to recognize that this was the police. It was “Hands up! Gun! Gun!” in a few seconds. I can’t understand that. Right now, I’m going to show you something. I have a cellphone. I’m going to point this cellphone right at you. Does this look like a gun? And if you can answer that question, logically, you tell me what the police saw, really, and what they didn’t see. So, it just comes for so many rooms of error.

But again, the fact that they used excessive force when it was unnecessary, the fact that they didn’t call backup, the fact that they didn’t have the helicopter shine that bright light that a lot of us young black males who have ran from the police know, and the fact that they lied and made it seem like this young man was attacking them, it all just continues to paint this picture, that’s happened across the nation, how police conduct themselves when dealing with black males or black females in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Berry, compare this to, for example, Nikolas Cruz, the mass shooter in Florida. Compare this to Dylann Storm Roof, when he was caught, who gunned down the parishioners at the Mother Emanuel Church, and how he was dealt with.

BERRY ACCIUS: Oh, if that’s a serious question, white privilege matters. See, here in America, black people have to compromise way too much. We have to compromise for the fact that if we had Skittles in our hand, an Arizona, if we have a cellphone, if we’re playing our music too loud, if we’re having a play toy gun in our hand, if we’re walking around with a hoodie. We have to compromise. It’s always the issue of, “Well, you should have did.” Well, Stephon Clark shouldn’t have ran. Stephon Clark was not running. He was walking to his grandparents’ house. If he was running from the police, why would he stop at his grandparents’ house to try to get inside? So, understand that with black people, living in America, all we have to do, and all we’ve been doing, is compromising. And every time we ask for justice, it’s almost dead cries on dead ears.

And when you look at these cases, you had a white male who killed 17 people. Seventeen people. He walks out unblemished, in jail, and his privilege shows, where now you have a national movement talking about gun violence. Well, here in Sacramento, we’ve been arguing, yelling from the sky, about gun violence here, and until Stephon Clark died. Now Sacramento and the world is listening to the cries of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about the various levels of activism. On Sunday night at a game between the Boston Celtics and the Sacramento Kings, the NBA players wore shirts featuring Stephon Clark’s name and the words “Accountability. We Are One.” The players also pre-recorded a video that played on the jumbotron inside the stadium ahead of tip-off.

AL HORFORD: We will not shut up and dribble.

KOSTA KOUFOS: This is bigger than basketball.

ZACH RANDOLPH: Change can be uncomfortable.

MARCUS MORRIS: Change is necessary.

SEMI OJELEYE: We need to talk.

SHANE LARKIN: We need to act.

JUSTIN JACKSON: We matter.

GREG MONROE: We must unite.

GARRETT TEMPLE: Say his name.

JAYLEN BROWN: Stephon Clark.

VINCE CARTER: Stephon Clark. We must unite.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week in Sacramento, hundreds of demonstrators chanted “Black Lives Matter” and shut down an interstate highway to demand justice for Stephon Clark. The protest delayed the start of the NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks, as only a fraction of ticket holders made it into the arena. Afterwards, team owner Vivek Ranadivé spoke in solidarity with the protesters.

VIVEK RANADIVÉ: We stand here before you—old, young, black, white, brown—and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting with our own community.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry Accius, can you talk about what the solidarity of the Sacramento Kings mean to you? It’s also a site of protest, as protesters shut down the arena, tried to stop people from going in, though there is solidarity expressed from inside by the players.

BERRY ACCIUS: Well, let’s be very clear that the only reason why that happened is because we shut down, and we made sure that there wasn’t going to be business as usual in Sacramento. We inconvenienced folks. Black people have been inconvenienced for years. So, what we looked at is, one thing that we know we can identify with this world of white supremacy is power, right? If you affect the money, you now have power. So what we decided to do is affect the money.

And the funny thing about that story is, I was actually asked to come talk to the owner, and the owner asked me, “What would you like me to say?” I kind of gave him some notes. He put it in his own words, and he said, “Is this good enough?” I said, “Go ahead. Shoot it.” And as I watched and I sat, and then he said those things, I was moved.

Then I talked to a few players on the Sacramento Kings: Garrett Temple, Doug Christie and Vince Carter. And they were all in, understanding that this is bigger than basketball, saying to me that they didn’t even want to play. But the fact that now we have this national attention, and now that we also have the Kings, that want to support this movement, because they recognize, they see, that people will go through such lengths to get justice for unarmed black people that continue to get murdered in America, that we would risk our own lives, we would make sure that folks are uncomfortable, this shows that people are tired. People are tired, not just black people. People are tired of these heinous acts. People are tired of a certain kind of group that walks around, that is supposed to protect and serve, getting away with killing people unarmed.

So, that move was strategic, but organic at the same time. The energy of the people, again, showed that if we want change, we must have change with all of us. So, Sacramento Kings realize it’s going to take all of us. But, of course, it had to be—they had to be persuaded in a little way. So I feel like a little persuasion helped us get to where we’re at right now with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Today is the funeral for Stephon Clark.

BERRY ACCIUS: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: This evening, do you have another protest planned at the Golden 1 arena? Another game is being played.

BERRY ACCIUS: This is not for play. So, for folks to think that we’re just playing around and running to the Golden 1 or going to places and shutting it down because this is something that we like to do, nobody on the street likes doing this. But nobody on the streets likes being harassed, and continue to be targeted, continue to see this abuse nationally. So, what we’re doing is getting folks who understand that enough’s enough.

If we are going to talk about equality, we actually want to speak upon equity. What is the equity that black people are getting? Across America, we’re being pushed out. Our schools are ran down. Our communities are ran down. We continue to pack these prison cells. We continue to be targeted, and we continue to be criminalized. We are just taking a stand for America, but asking Sacramento to be a part of this change. Sacramento claims to be this progressive city. So, as you fight for the DREAMers, we’re just asking to fight for black lives as much as you fight for anybody else.

And if anybody has an issue with that or is frustrated that we inconvenienced them from going to see a basketball game, listen to this. You have two young babies, two young boys, that no longer get to have their father ever. And it’s not because of his father’s fault. It’s because the people that say they protect and serve did not protect him, but gave and served him his death sentence on the day, on Sunday night.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry—

BERRY ACCIUS: So, when we want to look at things in perspective, we have to also look at the ownership and the accountability that the society has to have, as a way they’ve treated black people historically.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry—

BERRY ACCIUS: So this is the end of the road.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry, can you talk about Sacramento’s district attorney, Anne-Marie Schubert, and her record in dealing with police shootings?

BERRY ACCIUS: She’s a police protector. She does nothing for the people. She protects police. Simple. That’s what she does. She protects police. That’s her job, not protecting the people. Her job is protecting the police. And we will continue to challenge her. We will continue to make her uncomfortable. We are doing everything in our power to make sure she clearly does not get voted back in.

AMY GOODMAN: This isn’t the first high-profile police shooting of an African-American man in Sacramento. Last year, the 2006 shooting of—2016 shooting of Joseph Mann. Can you talk about what happened there and what was promised afterwards?

BERRY ACCIUS: Well, what reforms we had was we got a new police chief, which was African-American. They made sure that they got the videotapes out at a quicker time, process that, and as well as what we believed that there would be implementation of, making sure that they didn’t use lethal weapons, that they would use nonlethal weapons before they even try to use the lethal weapons. And the thing about it, what we asked for is a stronger police commission, but we got a police commission with no teeth, with no subpoena power.

And the fact that our DA continues to hide behind the fact that she protects the police, and doesn’t really protect the people, and doesn’t challenge the police, doesn’t have police brought up on charges, shows you a higher degree of where we’re at. And the simple fact that when we actually talked about the Joseph Mann case, and we were looking at it, and the police, Somers at that particular time, kind of was making up a story as if this man was grabbing a knife and attacking police, when the video came out, it showed a totally different scene.

And so, here we are now. But make note: In 2014, we were talking about the same thing. So this is nothing new. It was just a national moment with Joseph Mann, and even a more major moment with Stephon Clark that we’re in right now.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to the Sacramento City Council meeting, that moment as people were protesting, hundreds of people disrupting the Sacramento City Council, led by Stephon Clark’s brother, Stevonte Clark, who rushed into the council chamber and jumped onto the desk of Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

STEVONTE CLARK: Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark!

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Berry Accius, about what happened there between the mayor and Stephon’s mourning brother Stevonte?

BERRY ACCIUS: It’s kind of misleading when you said “he led us.” We, as a community, we are all leading this charge together. So it’s not one individual or one organization leading this. I think it’s a group, a coalition of folks. His energy, his frustration, his unapologetic way of expressing himself, is naturally what a lot of us feel, right? This was probably the first time that he’s ever probably came into the City Hall chambers or even met the mayor, one on one. A lot of these folks that sit in these districts, that ask for our vote, don’t even know who the people that they’re actually serving—right?—who they’re representing. So that energy and that frustration, that anger, is just the sounds of people, right?

This moment isn’t because people decided to just wake up in the morning and just say, “Hey, we want to disrupt the City Hall.” It’s because of excessive force being used. It’s because police terror is happening in our city. It’s because of police brutality. It’s because of police murder. So, we shouldn’t even focus on the lens of what that young man did, but we should also look at why that young man did what he did. Why are we protesting? That’s the bigger story—why—and the reason why we got to this point right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry, can you talk about the—

BERRY ACCIUS: What could have prevented this point?

AMY GOODMAN: —coalition of people who are involved? We see the video of many women in the City Council who are wearing T-shirts that say—I think they say “Build. Black.” Can you talk about all the different groups and the men and women who are involved in these protests, you yourself the founder of Voice of the Youth?

BERRY ACCIUS: Build. Black. is coming out of the ashes of this anti-blackness here in Sacramento. Build. Black. is a bunch of clergy, community organizers, community leaders, the citizens and community folks that are tired, and folks that are very influential in many different places, that we are now saying that the reason why these things continue to happen is this anti-blackness that’s happening throughout America.

And what we want to do, we want to be very intentional to make sure this never happens again, by building our own, having our own. It’s time for black people to take ownership and accountability of having our own stuff, building our own black power infrastructure. So this Build. Black. is unapologetically saying that we no longer are going to wait. We are no longer going to compromise. We are no longer wanting to be a part of this white supremacist system. We are going to build within. And to be honest with you, the fact that our ancestors put 400-plus years of work here in America, we are due that process. This is our reparations, and we’re coming for that, right now, as we build black together.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Berry Accius, I want to thank you for being with us, founder of Voice of the Youth, a Sacramento community activist. We will continue to cover the response. Let me ask you one other question. The police chief—

BERRY ACCIUS: Yes, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: The police chief, Hahn, said he wanted to investigate, himself, why his officers shut off the audio of the video cam after they killed Stephon Clark in a hail of 20 police bullets. That was many days ago he said this. What kind of answers are the community getting about why not only the shutting off of the audio happened, but why Stephon was killed?

BERRY ACCIUS: I mean, right now, everything is a focus on the protesters. And that has to stop. I think folks are kind of moving away from what the real situation is. And that is, we have a lot of questions that haven’t been answered. So, excuse me, the process of them investigating, hopefully we’ll find out more. But until then, we will be louder. We will be louder, and we’ll speak up against this injustice, because it is in a timely manner when we ask for transparency, and the moment that we feel like we’re getting transparency, here goes cameras, body cameras—body cameras that the community forced the police to have, forced the police have, to show us what’s going on—they turned mute. So there’s a lot of questions that the community has, and we don’t believe—actually, we know that these questions haven’t been getting answered sufficiently.

AMY GOODMAN: Berry Accius, founder of the Voice of the Youth and a Sacramento community activist, thanks so much for joining us.

BERRY ACCIUS: Black power matters!

AMY GOODMAN: To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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