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‘Shoot her 20 times in the back’: Protest over Stephon Clark’s death turns ugly

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Demonstrators protested outside the Golden 1 Center before the scheduled tipoff of Thursday’s NBA basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> A second day of protests over the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark turned unruly and occasionally violent today, as marchers tied up downtown streets, surrounded Sacramento police officers and doused one bystander with drinks, shouting, “Shoot her in the back 20 times!”

The 200 protesters in the afternoon march confronted motorists stuck in traffic, breaking the rear window of one car that tried to make its way through the throng. They blocked the evening commute at multiple intersections, delaying light rail and bus service and only letting motorists through if they agreed to the marchers’ demands to shout Clark’s name aloud. Some did, some didn’t.

“Whose streets? Our streets,” the marchers chanted, blocking some of the busiest thoroughfares in downtown Sacramento.

Unlike Thursday’s largely peaceful march, the protest appeared to be loosely organized, at best. The group spent hours marching haphazardly through downtown streets, stopping twice at the Capitol and making decisions on the fly as to where to go next. Leaders of Sacramento’s Black Lives Matter movement said they didn’t organize the protest, and one participant said he heard about the rally on Instagram.

By 7 p.m., the protest entered its eighth hour, and marchers crossed through midtown toward the Capital City Freeway near J Street. Several CHP vehicles raced toward the scene, sirens blaring, in an apparent attempt to block protesters from the elevated roadway.

To get there, they earlier stopped traffic on L Street near the state Capitol. Marchers weaved in and out of stopped cars and buses on the thoroughfare lined with palm trees.

They swarmed a Folsom police SUV outside Devere’s Irish Pub that appeared to be double parked on unrelated business. About 30 officers rushed over, forming a defensive line against the Residence Inn before protesters moved on.

Beforehand, marchers tried twice to gain access to Interstate 5, only to be met by about a dozen California Highway Patrol officers in riot gear and on horseback. Protesters stood inches from the impassive officers, chanting Clark’s name and shouting “F—the police.” One woman yelled: “It’s your job to protect us. It’s our job to stand up for him (Clark).”

A man named Kevin Lamb shouted: “Why do you need riot gear for a peaceful protest?”

During rush hour, the protesters closed in tight around riot police holding the line on the I Street entrance to I-5. A black CHP sergeant wearing riot gear received several minutes of intense verbal abuse from a group of young black men who got in his face and accused him of being a traitor.

“That could have been your son, ‘dog,’” one man told him.

The demonstration was part of a whirlwind day that began with a prominent civil rights lawyer in Oakland identifying the two officers who shot Clark as Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet. Sacramento police officials declined to confirm their identities.

Former Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins offered today to pay for funeral arrangements for Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man.

Separately, Mayor Darrell Steinberg questioned how police officers handle confrontations with black suspects, while not offering a verdict on the Clark shooting. “The same thing keeps happening again and again across this country. That’s what we need to talk about: Is there not another way?” he told The Sacramento Bee.

Perhaps the day’s most anxious moment came in the early afternoon, when the protesters surrounded a small group of Sacramento foot patrol officers and bicycle cops. More officers quickly arrived in patrol cars and formed a protective ring to move the protesters away. Many of the protesters held up their cell phones and chanted “Cellphones don’t kill.” Clark was holding a cellphone when he was killed.

As the confrontation at 7th and J continued, at least one officer used a club to push protesters back, while one of the unofficial leaders of the march, the Rev. Brian Michael Levingston of Destiny Church in Sacramento, appealed to the protesters to leave the officers alone.

Levingston repeated his peacemaker role multiple times throughout the day, herding protesters away from the standoff with the riot squad by the freeway on-ramp and often walking among different marchers, asking them to calm down.

“We can’t have passion without discipline,” Levingston shouted at one point. “What we’re doing here has to be disciplined.”

Discipline broke down at times, however. In front of Old City Hall, marchers began shouting at a woman stuck in traffic in an SUV. A protester jumped on the hood of her car. Another smashed her back window as she slowly tried to drive away, littering the street in front of the city building with shards of dark glass.

While heading toward the freeway, the crowd stopped briefly in front of the Sacramento County Main Jail on I Street, where about five protesters made it inside the building’s lobby before being thrown out by three deputies. The marchers then moved on.

Later, a group of protesters surrounded a woman walking near the Central Library at 9th and J streets and screamed at her, “Shoot her in the back 20 times” and then doused her with drinks from bottles they were carrying. Police shot Clark 20 times Sunday night.

One marcher, Elijah Johnson, said he attended Sacramento High School and Capital Christian Center with Clark, and was incensed with media reports about Clark’s troubled past. None of that justified Clark’s killing, he said. “To me, his past was irrelevant; it doesn’t define you,” he said on the steps of the Capitol.

Another marcher, Clifton Williams, said he was protesting because he believed the shooting was excessive force and was bothered by the fact that officers handcuffed Clark after he had been shot and had been lying on the ground unmoving for about five minutes.

That is standard practice for the department, and also was a point of frustration for community members after the police shooting of Dazion Flenaugh in 2016, a black man who led police on a chase before three officers fatally shot him.

Caltrans officials closed the I-5 off-ramp at J Street for the second day in a row as a precaution. On Thursday, a large group of protesters marched onto the freeway, forcing a half-hour freeway closure.

One marcher who identified himself as “T” said today’s march had been organized on Instagram.

“We want answers,” said T. “We want justice, as they say.”

“I’m mad,” said Johnathan Winters. “They look at us like we are bad people and we are the criminals, but they are killing us.”

The crowd was about half the size of Thursday’s largely peaceful protest, which drew 500 people, briefly blocked traffic on I-5 and wound up at Golden 1 Center. There, marchers formed a human chain around the arena and forced Kings officials to turn thousands of fans away. The Kings ended up playing their game against the Atlanta Hawks in front of about 2,000 fans.

There were no arrests and protesters did not engage in violence, though one metal detector was knocked down. Sacramento police did use pepper ball guns and batons during an incident when some marchers tried to enter a back door. Two protesters were also hit with Tasers in stun mode, a lesser setting of the electrical devices.

Today’s protesters, heading north on 7th Street, made a brief detour toward Golden 1 but stopped when they realized the arena was hosting the high school state basketball championships.

“Let the kids hoop,” one marcher shouted, and the throng continued north on 7th.

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