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Many Protests, Few Arrests In Sacramento

Hours after the funeral for Stephon Clark on March 29, dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters staged a demonstration outside of the offices of the Sacramento district attorney to demand justice for Clark who was shot and killed by Sacramento police.
Justin Sullivan
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Hours after the funeral for Stephon Clark on March 29, dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters staged a demonstration outside of the offices of the Sacramento district attorney to demand justice for Clark who was shot and killed by Sacramento police.

Protesters have filled the streets of Sacramento nonstop since the police shooting of Stephon Clark last month. They've blocked Sacramento Kings' fans from games, jammed drivers during their rush hour commutes, and filled the city council chambers twice for a public forum — including Tuesday night.

But there's been little violence, and just two arrests. Many cities in which officer-involved shootings have led to protests have avoided the riots and arrests that plagued cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.

Deliberate efforts to keep the peace

At one of the daily afternoon Black Lives Matter marches last week in downtown Sacramento, a crowd of protesters who had already claimed a rush hour intersection walked right up to police officers and chanted provocatively in their faces.

It was one of the many tense moments since police officers shot 22-year-old Clark last month that could have escalated into a riot. But, it didn't. After a few minutes, the cops backed off and retreated down the alleyway. A short while later, some of the protesters broke off from the main group and marched into clogged traffic. But organizers called them back. No arrests at that day's protest, and no violence.

It was a deliberate effort from both sides to keep the peace, even as the community burned with anger.

"For the most part, we've allowed people to take streets and intersections," said Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn. "That hasn't come without anger in our community, but I think it was the right decision at those times, because it didn't lead to more tragedy in our city."

Community activist Barry Accius agrees.

"There has been police that have held some restraint," he says, "and there has been great community leadership that has been able to kind of hold back certain aggressions and agitation."

Respect and dignity

There's a playbook for how to prevent violence in these situations, says David Couper, a former police chief in Madison, Wis., who writes the "Improving Police" blog.

"If a police department is close to the community, listens to the community, and
treats the community with respect and dignity, the chance for there being urban chaos after a bad shooting is greatly reduced," he says.

Couper likens it to making deposits in the community's trust bank, year after year – so that after a divisive police shooting, a city can make a withdrawal.

Sacramento implemented community-oriented policing years ago, and although Hahn has only been police chief for less than a year, he's built deep relationships with neighborhood groups – as have elected officials, like Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

"The country's watching," the mayor says. "And what the country has seen is not Ferguson. It's seen, in many ways, the opposite."

That could change if the official investigation now underway does not lead to what protesters are demanding: criminal charges against the officers who shot Stephon Clark.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio News. To see more, visit CapRadio News.