Standing beside the family of a 22-year-old black man who was fatally shot by police a year ago Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton called for California to make it easier to prosecute officers who kill civilians and to require that all cases go before a grand jury.
“The legacy is we’re going to pass legislation in Stephon’s name, the legacy is that we won’t stop fighting for justice in Stephon’s name,” Sharpton said, referring to Stephon Clark. “You might have killed him a year ago, but you can’t kill a movement.”
Sharpton spoke on the steps of the Capitol alongside Clark’s brother, mother and grandmother, as well family attorney Ben Crump, who is known for representing the families of young black men killed by police.
Two Sacramento officers responding to calls of someone breaking car windows shot Clark a year ago in his grandparents’ backyard. Local and state prosecutors announced earlier this month that they would not charge the officers because police thought Clark had a gun and feared for their lives. Clark was holding only a cellphone.
His death prompted intense protests in the capital city, with marchers shutting down a highway ramp and blocking fans from entering the downtown arena where the Sacramento Kings play. It also drew the attention of Sharpton and Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin.
Now Sharpton, Crump and the family are calling for sweeping changes to California laws dealing with police shootings. They’re backing legislation by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber that would change the standard for when police can use deadly force.
The measure says police must have a “reasonable” need to open fire, instead of a “necessary” one. Weber proposed it last year after Clark’s death, but the Democratic-led Senate blocked it from moving forward.
Sharpton said such a change likely would have required the officers who shot Clark to show there was no other alternative than shooting him.
He also called for lawmakers to require all police shooting investigations to be heard by a grand jury. A 2017 law requires that grand jury transcripts be made public in police shooting cases when the officers aren’t indicted, but prosecutors can decide whether to press charges on their own.
No such legislation has been introduced, but Sen. Steven Bradford said he’s in “discussions” about it.
Police unions do not support changing the use-of-force standards and are backing their own measure that would enhance officer training, with an emphasis on trying to calm suspects first.
The California Police Chiefs Association did not comment on the grand jury idea.
The Sacramento Police Department this month released transcripts of the interviews done with the officers in the hours after the shooting. Both described thinking Clark had a gun.
The announcements that they wouldn’t be charged sparked new protests, including one in which police arrested 84 people in a wealthy Sacramento neighborhood. District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who declined to indict the officers, chose not to press charges against anyone arrested.
Clark’s family has called for peaceful demonstrations.
“Let’s march peacefully, because they want us to act ugly,” said SeQuita Thompson, Clark’s grandmother. “Let’s stand tall and proud, for we will get justice one day for all our loved ones.”
Behind those who spoke Monday hung a white banner that said, “I am SAC,” using Clark’s initials as a play on the capital city’s nickname.