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Protests Ignite After 2 Officers Will Not Be Charged In Sacramento Shooting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's listen to the voice of a mother who lost her son about a year ago. His name was Stephon Clark. He was a 22-year-old unarmed black man who police shot and killed in Sacramento, Calif. His name is back in the news because the district attorney announced over the weekend the officers will not be charged in his death. Our colleague Michel Martin spoke to Stephon's mom, Se'Quette, yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SE'QUETTE CLARK: Every day when I wake up, my son was murdered yesterday. Every day when I wake up, I'm running to a yellow tape for half a block from my mother's house, being told across the tape that my son is not alive. I'm being told that my 8-year-old daughter and my mother witnessed my son being murdered. Every day when I wake up, that's what I wake up with.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As for the decision not to charge the officers, Se'Quette Clark says the district attorney focused too much on what her son was doing and not enough on decisions by the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CLARK: She never once addressed their actions. She presented and painted a picture of my son that was her opinion.

INSKEEP: Here's the sound of the community reacting to the district attorney.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Say his name.

INSKEEP: Say his name - Stephon Clark. That was the chant from the streets of Sacramento.

GREENE: Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler has been covering this case and joins me this morning.

Hi, Ben.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So take us back, if you can, for a moment to the exact circumstances of Stephon Clark's death last year.

ADLER: Sure. So nearly a year ago, Sacramento police responded to reports of a man breaking car windows. Now, the officers pursued him into a backyard. They thought he had a gun, and they fired 20 rounds at him. The man turned out to be Stephon Clark. He turned out to be holding a cellphone, not a gun. And the backyard he had run into turned out to be his grandmother's.

GREENE: So as we heard there from Stephon's mother, she is saying that the district attorney did not take the police actions into consideration. What exactly did the district attorney say led her to this conclusion?

ADLER: Well, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert did look at the officer's actions. And she said they were justified because the officers honestly, without hesitation, believed he had a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE MARIE SCHUBERT: The law requires that we judge the reasonableness of an officer's actions based upon the circumstances confronting them at that moment of time.

ADLER: Now as for Clark, Schubert said evidence from his cellphone showed he feared arrest for domestic violence and that he was considering suicide.

GREENE: OK. So the community, we hear there have been protests that you've been covering. What exactly has the response been to this decision?

ADLER: Well, the decision was expected. I don't think anyone was surprised. And in fact, the community leaders and elected officials had been meeting, planning for what might happen if and when this decision came. And yet, the details that the DA released about Clark's state of mind infuriated his family and the community, I think even more than they maybe were preparing for. Clark's mother called it a smear campaign. A pastor called it a modern-day lynching. And a woman who lived down the street from where he was killed said it felt like Clark was being charged with his own murder. Yesterday, protesters shut down the city's largest mall after sitting in overnight. And here is activist Berry Accius.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERRY ACCIUS: Sacramento, you are now warned that there will be no sleep. We may show up at one of your other communities. We might even show up at the Golden 1 arena. You never know what can happen.

ADLER: He was alluding to the protests in the days after the shooting that twice shut down the downtown basketball arena where the NBA's Sacramento Kings play. Now, David, the announcement came on a rainy Saturday in between Kings games, but they do play at home tonight. And today is the first weekday since the DA's announcement, so we will see what happens downtown during rush hour.

GREENE: Well, then the question is what happens in the legal process. I mean, you have Stephon Clark's brother now calling on California's attorney general to actually prosecute this if the DA is not going to. Could that happen?

ADLER: I suppose it could. I think that would come as a surprise to the community. The DA - or the attorney general in California is a fairly well-known national name, Xavier Becerra, a former top Democratic leader in Congress. He has tended to have support from law enforcement groups in several situations. And so I'm kind of - I would be a little surprised if we see charges filed against the officers. But he is conducting an investigation into the shooting. And the Sacramento Police Department is waiting for those findings before conducting its own review of whether the officers violated its own department policies. That's what could lead to the officers' firings or not.

And finally, I think we're going to see the debate move now to the state Capitol because last year, an effort to change the law governing when police can use deadly force stalled. This year, there are two rival bills - one backed by community advocates and civil rights activists; another backed by law enforcement - law enforcement coming to the table on this and putting forth some proposals for the first time. The two sides have already spent the last half year or so negotiating. And I think it's pretty likely a bill will get through this year. The question is whether it's a bill that both sides can live with.

GREENE: Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reporting in Sacramento, Calif. Thanks so much, Ben.

ADLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.