Sacramento cops plan tactical shift as Stephon Clark protests reverberate out east

Protesters don't expect officers to keep their cool infinitely.

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 22:  Black Live Matter protesters chant as they block the entrance to the Golden 1 Center during a demonstration on March 22, 2018 in Sacramento, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 22: Black Live Matter protesters chant as they block the entrance to the Golden 1 Center during a demonstration on March 22, 2018 in Sacramento, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Eleven protesters were arrested Wednesday night in New York’s Times Square after a solidarity rally to mark the killing of an unarmed Sacramento man by police 10 days earlier.

As marchers and cops clashed in New York, police back in Sacramento were readying a significant change in tactics for Thursday night’s planned NBA contest at the downtown Golden 1 Center.

It will be the third home game for the Kings since Sacramento Police Department officers fired 20 shots and killed Stephon Clark as he stood holding a cell phone in his grandmother’s yard. Protesters have twice surrounded the arena and blocked the entrances, with police on hand but not seeking to break up the peaceful, animated demonstrations.

If residents make a third go at shutting down the arena Thursday night, they may find it more difficult. Police intend to establish a perimeter at the outer edge of the complex surrounding the building, according to the Sacramento Bee, and allow only people with valid game tickets to enter the area where protesters had previously stationed themselves.


A tactical deployment that requires officers to hold ground could engender a different environment between protesters and police than in previous nights. Though there were a couple of arrests Tuesday outside City Hall, four nights of protest downtown have avoided violence. Police Chief David Hahn chose not to use pepper spray or other crowd suppressants and expressed sympathy with the emotions in the crowd in media appearances.

The decision was a welcome surprise to Berry Accius, one of the local activists helping to organize the protests.

“To be honest with you I thought we were all going to jail that night,” Accius said in an interview. “Pepper spray, everything.”

With golden-rule efficiency, the calmer and more respectful police approach has been reflected back in restraint on the part of protesters as they disrupt council meetings, block traffic, and effectively shut off the city’s downtown commercial magnet.

The city was also quick to release videos showing its officers killing Clark, a step not taken in some other recent tense moments where protests turned violent in Maryland and North Carolina. The Kings organization has embraced the protesters’ cause in public and owner Vivek Ranadive has met with them in private.

The combination of responses from the city’s institutions has likely helped maintain the noisy peace. But protesters don’t necessarily expect officers to keep their cool infinitely.


“They’ve held a lot of restraint. But when you shake the system, the system is built to shake right back, and when it shakes it’s an earthquake,” Accius said.

Clark’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday just before midday local time, an event Accius said would locals might mark by staying home rather than marching. Organizers had discussed breaking off the blockade of the Kings venue, he said, anticipating a possible shift in police response even prior to the reports of a cordoned perimeter.

“Folks are feeling excited, and we have to kind of come to that decision — do you keep hitting the same spot?” he said. “Once you start going to the well over and over again, eventually somebody is going to block it.”

The large, well-ordered demonstrations and shut-down tactics have given organizers a key opportunity to put ideas for material change into play, too. It’s a matter now of striking the right balance of rowdy First Amendment activity and direct conversations with the people being protested, to not just hold the city’s attention but use it positively.

“I’m very clear with my people, once you challenge the system of white supremacy they are going to allow you some time to rethink it, and eventually they will show you who they really are,” Accius said.

Some might be inclined to think that “12 people got arrested in New York then that means 20 people have to get arrested out here,” he said. “And what I am trying to do for my people is to understand that let’s get a win before losses start happening, because then they don’t have to talk to you.”