- Berry Acciusfounder of Voice of the Youth and a Sacramento community activist.
Protests in Sacramento continue more than a week after the county’s district attorney announced the two police officers who shot and killed 22-year-old, unarmed African American Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard last year will not face criminal charges. Since the news broke, organizers have joined walkouts at local colleges and high schools, demonstrations at the City Council, an ongoing occupation of a Sacramento police station, a die-in at UC Davis and a protest in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods that led to 84 arrests. This marks the 34th consecutive police shooting review in which Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert found that the officers acted legally, according to The Sacramento Bee. We speak with Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth and a Sacramento community activist.
AMY GOODMAN: “I Can’t Breathe,” written and performed by Ellisha Flagg and Steven Flagg, the brother and sister of Eric Garner. Eric Garner was killed in 2014 when a New York police officer wrestled him to the ground and applied a fatal chokehold, while Garner said “I can’t breathe” 11 times. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now, first, to Sacramento, California, where protests continue more than a week after the county’s district attorney announced the two police officers who shot and killed 22-year-old, unarmed African American Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard last year will not face criminal charges. The two police officers initially claimed Stephon Clark was holding a gun when they shot and killed him in March of 2018, but later admitted they found only his cellphone near his body. After officers unleashed 20 bullets into Clark, they waited for over five minutes before approaching him to administer medical attention. Nearly a year after the fatal shooting inspired massive civil unrest in Sacramento and across California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra also announced his office will not file charges.
AMY GOODMAN: News that the officers will not be charged has sparked massive protests across Sacramento, with walkouts at local colleges and high schools, demonstrations at the City Council, an ongoing occupation of a Sacramento police station, a die-in at UC Davis and a protest in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods that led to 84 arrests. Protesters are demanding justice for Stephon Clark and greater police accountability in Sacramento. This marks the 34th consecutive police shooting review in which Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert found the officers acted legally, this according to The Sacramento Bee.
Well, for more, we go to Sacramento, where we’re joined by Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth and a Sacramento community activist.
Berry, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s happening right now and what you’re demanding.
BERRY ACCIUS: Thank you for having me back. It’s a pleasure. Unfortunately, with the circumstances that we have right now, we’re in a difficult place and a difficult situation. And right now in Sacramento, we’re just responding to the DA’s decision to not charge officers—something that we all knew was going to happen. But I think what has highlighted our frustration and our anger and more our disappointment is the fact that—how she criminalized Stephon Clark, who was the victim of this heinous murder or this assassination. So, the fact that she decided to put Stephon Clark on trial for his own murder was something that I think has heightened the response from the community.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and it was not just her decision, but also the announcement by Xavier Becerra, as well, at the state level, that there would be no action. There was actually a bill passed, Senate Bill 1421, that requires the disclosure of internal investigations regarding police shootings, and it was passed as a result of the Stephon Clark killing. And it was also supposed to be retroactive. So why has Becerra declined to release information in the investigation of Stephon Clark?
BERRY ACCIUS: Well, I think they all sleep in the same bed, if you ask me. When the DA decided not to press charges and lamented the idea that Stephon Clark was a criminal—remember, he was a vandal, so that’s why he died, and he got executed—you didn’t really expect, as a community, that the AG would do anything different. I think that was a lot of tough talk about what he was going to do, moving forward, to get the votes. And when it was time to show and prove, he showed us exactly who he was and what he was about. So, it wasn’t surprising, again. The surprising notion was how they have painted this young man, who got murdered, this young man, who was a father of two, was a criminal—the toxicology report, the idea that his relationship with the mother of his child had anything to do with his murder—trying to create this criminal element. And the real criminals are still on our streets being police officers currently, to this day.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you understand happened, Berry. It’s almost been a year, March 18th, that Stephon Clark was gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard. What do you understand happened?
BERRY ACCIUS: I mean, I understand that the police made a grave mistake. And the unfortunate part about it all is: When do we hold police accountable? When do police officers actually say, “Our bad. Our mistake,” and, instead of doing that, create the criminal element of every time they will go after an alleged suspect? Here’s the thing that they painted. They painted that this young man was a criminal. And to me, when you look at it, as I just visited Stephon Clark’s demise in the backyard of his grandparents’ house, the young man had no opportunity, no chance. You had a helicopter, that was moved by the sheriff, that was giving the instructions to the Sac PD that was on ground. They gave all bad information. So the miscommunication between both entities has kind of led to the death of Stephon Clark. So, the idea of, at one time, the thing that they alleged was a gun was a toolbar, then it was a cellphone, and ultimately they tried to play it that it was a gun, it led to his demise. So it’s more of the same kind of business here in Sacramento. And what’s happened afterwards is you’ve had the death of Brandon Smith. We had the death of Darell Richards, as well as the death of Marshall Miles. So, when we look at Sacramento in a whole, we haven’t really heeded the words of the people or haven’t looked at the end results of excessive force used by police.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the police chief of Sacramento, Daniel Hahn. He’s promised a separate internal investigation into the actions of the police officers. He’s an African-American police chief. What has been his role? And do you have any hope that anything will be done, even at an administrative level, to hold these officers responsible?
BERRY ACCIUS: Well, one of the officers that killed Stephon Clark was African-American. The idea of an African-American chief to be the hero of the community, it’s nice in theory, but the reality is he’s under a shield. And that shield is blue. So, when we look at Hahn, we hope that he does the right thing. But in the letter of the law for police, the letter of law protects the police for doing a heinous act like this.
And the unfortunate part, the letter of the law hasn’t changed since 1872. And when you think about 1872 and you think about the origin of police in 1704, as slave catchers, a.k.a. the slave patrol, you’ve got to really understand where we’re at right now, right? In 1870—excuse me, 1865, you know, this is when the African-American citizens were let out of slavery. So when you think about the idea of what the origin of the police are, and the idea that because of the shooting of Joseph Mann, the resignation of Somers—or, should I say, the fact that Somers resigned, allegedly—you have Chief Hahn who comes in as a superstar, because he used to be a part of this community. Again, a superstar coming in, in this community, doesn’t mean that he’s going to clean up the culture of policing. And the culture of policing, not only in Sacramento, but throughout the country, is deemed to be corrupt. So, in that idea of corruption and racism, it’s going to be a hard piece for Daniel Hahn to come in and do the right thing.
And the right thing only now is to fire the officers at this point. We’re not going to get a criminal conviction, so fire the officers. So, we wait patiently, and not really worried about an investigation, because we’ve been here for over a year. What more of an investigation are we going to have? I don’t think that the city of Sacramento, as well as Stephon Clark’s family, needs to go through the kind of pain, to kind of hear again that Stephon Clark was this, Stephon Clark was that. Stephon Clark was a man. Stephon Clark was a black man, unarmed, who got murdered at his grandparents’ house.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you calling for right now, Berry?
BERRY ACCIUS: We’re calling for firing. Absolutely, these officers cannot be in the community of Sacramento. The firing of these officers needs to happen immediately. And it’s not only on Chief Hahn. It’s also on our city management. City manager holds most of the power. The city manager, if he wanted to, he could actually say that the officers have to go. But again, the letter of the law, that kind of holds these officers in this way of protection, it makes it more difficult for them to kind of do the right thing.
As a humanity standpoint, you would think these officers, whether it’s a mistake or whether they did it on purpose, they did something that they can no longer be in a community policing the people in this community, without the people in the community having distrust. And a whole lot of the things that these folks have been telling us for years and years is that “we have to trust the police officers” and “we are community.” The new thing is “we are healing.” But how can you heal without justice? So these officers have to go immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: Berry Accius, we want to thank you with being with us, founder of the Voice of the Youth and a Sacramento community activist.
BERRY ACCIUS: Can I also—can I also say one more thing? We need to put AB 392. That is something, a bill, that will change the dynamics of policing. It will hold police accountable for these heinous actions. AB 392, this is a bill that we are pushing to make sure that police officers are held accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: Berry, thanks so much for being with us.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll look at what’s happening to Hampshire College. Stay with us.