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Protest shootings of unarmed black man gets highway

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Protesters decrying this week’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, marched on Sacramento’s City Hall and a nearby highway on Thursday, disrupting rush-hour traffic and holding signs with messages like “Sac PD: Stop killing us!”

Hundreds of people mobilized for Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old, who was shot Sunday in the backyard of his grandparents. The police say they feared he had a gun when they confronted him after the reports he had broken windows in the South Sacramento area.

But the police found only a mobile phone.

“We are at a place of deep pain” by recent violence against black people in Sacramento and elsewhere,” said the Rev. Les Simmons, a leader of the community. He said that the city’s first black police chief, Daniel Hahn, is doing what he can, but protested the actions of Hahn’s officers.

Clinton Primm said that he was friends with Clark, who earned the nickname “Zoe,” for about six years, and the fears of others are also at risk to be shot by the police.

“He was a great father,” he recalled of Clark, the father of sons ages 1 and 3. “He loved both of them to death.”

Sacramento resident Vanessa Cullars said she has lost two family members to police violence.

“I’m tired,” she said at the protest. “I feel like our lives are not important to them.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said previously that he was shocked, but not second-guess the “split-second judgments” of officers. He praised Hahn for the quick release of the videos of the shooting, and said the department is improving the policy since the fatal shooting of a mentally ill black man in 2016.

But independent experts say that the footage from the body cameras and an overhead helicopter raises more questions than it answers.

The officers seemed to believe they were in danger, they said, and if so, the shooting was probably legally justified.

An officer is heard “doing a mental inventory to make sure there are no holes in his body,” because the officers seem to think Clark may have shot and missed, said Peter Moskos, a former police officer and assistant professor in the Department of Law and Police Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force, said the officers may have a hard time explaining why they jumped to the conclusion that Clark had a gun.

He also questioned why an upcoming back-officer had the two original officers put the microphones on their body cameras, eliminating what he called “important evidence.”

In an ideal world, the two agents must be immediately provided with first aid instead of waiting five minutes for back-up, said Eugene O’donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But that would be more the product of hope than the reality,” he said, with the officers still in shock and worried about their own safety.

The Sacramento Police Department said that officers were responding to reports of a man seen to break into at least three vehicles and later in the house of the neighbors. The police said that the deputies in the helicopter saw Clark break of the neighbors sliding glass door before jumping a fence.

As a result, “their threat radar is really high,” said Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and special prosecutor Ed Obayashi, leading officers, and testify in the court on the police of the police use of violence.

“They have to believe that their life is in danger at that second,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this.

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