March 31, 2018, 9:55 pm
As the spotlight has turned to Sacramento over the past two weeks following the Sacramento Police shooting of Stephon Clark, the Sacramento Kings have morphed from NBA footnote to participants in a national debate over use of deadly force by law enforcement, in particular against non-whites.
That started nearly two weeks ago after protests at the Golden 1 Center caused the Kings and Hawks to play in front of just 2,000 people after the team decided to lock the doors over safety concerns.
Owner Vivek Ranadive gave an impassioned speech at the end of that game promising to use the platform of the team – and by extension the platform of the NBA – to “prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again.”
This is no small task since these types of tragedies have been a part of this country’s fabric for as long as it has been a country. It is also uncharted territory for a major American sports franchise, who don’t typically find themselves in the eye of such storms. When they do, the typical response is to avoid carrying such a divisionary political football.
It’s a stunning turn of events for a team whose biggest immediate question might have been how many minutes Skal Labissiere has received this season.
Now they’re working with people from all sides of the discussion about law enforcement, all while protests continue to occur in downtown Sacramento, right on their doorstep.
The sense around team officials, who declined to go on record but spoke on background, and organizers bringing the Kings into orbit with Black Lives Matter, Build. Black. Coalition and a who’s who of local advocacy groups – was that these jigsaw pieces were coming together both organically and somewhat on the fly.
The events have also thrust former Kings great and TV analyst Doug Christie, and current Kings players Garrett Temple and Vince Carter into massive roles not just as faces of the Kings franchise, but more importantly as black men trying to effect change on a deeply personal level and on an issue of national importance.
The crazy thing is that it almost didn’t happen.
As it would go, protester Barry Accius would get a meeting with Ranadive on the day of the first protest that effectively shut down the Golden 1 Center. Accius is the co-founder of Voice of the Youth and a local activist that would also bring the Kings into contact with Black Lives Matter.
When protests at City Hall started to die down, Accius brought protesters to Golden 1 Center. When Christie saw the protests were happening, he reached out to his colleague from KHTK 1140, Damien Barling, who knew Accius and altogether a meeting of the minds was arranged with the Kings.
By then Ranadive and team officials had brought Temple and Carter into the discussion about how to handle the protests.
“I tried my best to get the game shut down,” said Carter when asked on Friday at a joint event at South Sacramento Christian Church. “The reason for that is I wanted everybody outside protesting to understand that we are with you, behind you and support what’s going on.”
The game was not going to be shut down.
“Fine,” said Carter. “But the next thing I said was, ‘we must say something.’ Somebody needs to say something to let you guys know, who are out there protesting … let you guys know, that we understand, we are supporting you while you are doing our job.”
“But at the same time, we want you to hear our voice saying ‘we are behind you,’ while we are doing our job,” as young Carter turned his attention to his conversation with the Kings. “And that’s taking advantage of our platform.”
Rather than having the players speak, it was decided that Vivek would address the crowd.
Shortly afterward, early stages of partnerships with Build. Black. Coalition and Black Lives Matter would be formed. The Kings formed an education fund for the children of Stephon Clark.
All of this happened in a melting pot of protests that continued through Tuesday’s game against the Mavs. As it often goes, protests are not monolithic in nature and new protesters emerged that were not in the original communication loop. More fans were turned away, revenues were lost and optics surrounding the situation got increasingly complex.
A large contingent of fans do not support Black Lives Matter. Social media is littered with complaints about protesters, about being inconvenienced at the game and about Clark being responsible for his own death.
Clark’s brother, Stevante, hopped up on a dais and practically into mayor Darrell Steinberg’s lap at the City Council meeting on that same Tuesday. It was a display of raw emotion that brought Steinberg to his feet due to the discomfort, but he stopped short of admonishing a greiving young man lacking composure and begging to be heard.
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There have been any number of business reasons the Kings could have used to sink to the back of the pack on this issue.
Still, the Kings reached out to local law enforcement to make Thursday’s game a safe and enjoyable experience. Ranadive and Peja Stojakovic greeted fans at the door to hammer home that point. The team and its players have continued down a path that reflected Ranadive’s promise – whatever it may be – and so far it appears to have staying power.
On Friday night, the South Sacramento Christian Church opened its doors for young people, who received education on mental health issues surrounding tragedy and trauma, as well as an outlet to both communicate their feelings and learn constructive ways to manifest change in their community.
“What you are feeling is normal,” said one teacher who went by Dr. Flo. “Your defenses are up because you do not feel safe.” They showed brain scans highlighting the differences in brains that are experiencing trauma and those that are not.
They encouraged mental health training and talked about how to process emotions such as anger or fear. They encouraged children to step up to the microphones and speak about their feelings. Some read spoken word poems.
“They don’t have a father to teach them their goals.
While the devil already made em.
They gave credit for a man’s debit
They could blast a hole in your soul
Look on the news, a 22
Your own boy was dead
In his yard
A safe environment
Is a grave
Since he was a boy, playin in the grass
Soon, he was permanent to the grass”
The boy was no older than 12 years old.
Christie wrote his own spoken word poem while the children went through their exercises.
Many moving, emotional moments during tonight’s Youth forum with the Kings, Black Lives Matter Sacramento & BUILD. BLACK. Coalition. Doug Christie wrote this poem just before taking the stage during the writing seminar. @TheDougChristie @GTemp14 @mrvincecarter15 #StephonClark pic.twitter.com/Ka9gldRY6o
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) March 31, 2018
Prior to the question and answer session with Kings players, they spoke with media to discuss why they were there. They were asked about the independent autopsy that shows Clark was shot eight times and primarily in the back. They were asked about what it was like playing for an owner and team that was supporting their cause.
“Eight shots,” said Temple. “Six in the back. My response was ‘wow.’ I’m not a coroner and I’m not an investigator but I think that shows he wasn’t coming at (the police). I think it’s a tough situation and my first reaction was ‘wow.’
“Any person shot in the back ‘you say wow and you say why’ and I think that’s what the movement is about right now,” added Carter. “Why does it have to be this way. And let’s change this mentality and this thought process.”
Later on in the question and answer session, Christie was asked why he was at the event and shared a conversation he had with his son when they got pulled over on Highway 80 in Sacramento.
“Because every day I look in the mirror I see Stephon Clark. I have a Stephon Clark at home. He’s 17 years old,” starts Christie into his story. “It was the first time that I saw my son panic. It scared the hell out of him.”
“It could have been any young black man in America. It could have been any of us,” followed Temple. “I got a hoodie on right now. Until we can reach that point where we feel like we are safe anywhere we go in this country, it’s my obligation to speak up.”
There is no mincing words with any of the players but they also realize that it’s not enough to just be angry.
On Thursday, Temple and Kings VP of Kings Academy and Professional Development Galen Duncan joined up with pastors Tecoy and Ellington Porter of Genesis Church and pastor Bob Balian of Bayside Midtown to talk with a room of mostly black boys and young men about how to deal with racial issues.
“People have these implicit biases towards everybody, but especially a negative bias toward black men,” starts Temple as he begins to extricate the painful reality of being black in America from the pragmatic solutions that we all need to tackle.
“You have to be on point with your mindset and how you react to certain situations. I make it a point to not be the ignorant, angry black man just spewing from an emotional standpoint.
That’s when the education piece comes into effect. You need to learn, can speak well, so you can articulate exactly what you mean.”
Temple and Duncan spoke of their belief in current Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who worked with Temple and former Kings players Matt Barnes, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay when he was Roseville’s police chief in 2016 and police shootings had created a national discussion on law enforcement, race relations and use of lethal force.
Hahn was honored by the Kings in February during Black History Month and his relationship with churches like Bayside Midtown, a multicultural church that is also predominantly black, give this situation a different feel.
Hahn was called “our Barack Obama” by Ernie Daniels, a retired African-American police captain who mentored Hahn.
“Finally, we were able to get somebody that’s from our community.”
Balian called Hahn “the chosen one.”
Hahn, for his part, has allowed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting, but maintains confidence in his own detectives to be impartial.
He’s walking a tight line but it’s a line that has to be walked because until all of the issues are on the table then no party will be happy. Police officers will not feel appreciated and in particular non-white communities are going to feed targeted, and worse, that their lives are at risk.
Temple presented this duality when asked what he wanted out of this situation. “What I want to get out of this is for people to be held accountable for their actions – in this situation, police to be accountable for their actions.”
Then he turned back toward the pragmatic, “Personally, I don’t think each cop that has killed a black man is racist. I do not believe that. I believe the implicit biases that society has put through us and television has embedded in our minds, that everything that has been shown through media about black and brown men, those implicit biases are in everybody.”
Still, the pain of that reality seeps through the end of the answer. “So when a cop goes into a black neighborhood or sees a black man he’s scared to death already … I want to make sure these (airquotes provided) mistakes have consequences.”
Prior to sharing his son’s fear over being pulled over, Christie talked about needing the police. “My mom had tuberculosis and she started coughing up blood and she had to go to the hospital. And I’m at home all by myself and I don’t know how to get (her) to the hospital. I called the police and they brought me to my mom.”
Balian uses an acronym for BLM, commonly a reference to Black Lives Matter, but his version is Black and Blue Lives Matter. His work in the community sparks the nuanced discussions that are needed.
There is no path forward that does not include both a megaphone and a scalpel.
Now the Kings are in the middle of that culture war and it how it goes from here is anybody’s guess.
To what extent will the Kings continue to put both their brand and the NBA’s brand on the line? How much staying power do these players really have? The NBA is a rent don’t buy type of a world. Addresses change and people lose interest quickly until the next person dies.
“I want everybody that’s sitting here to promise to continue to spread the word,” Carter told this group of approximately 200 people. “Because it’s easy to sit here and feel good about it, but what do we do when we walk out these doors. Not next week, not next month, but in six months when it’s died down?
Do we continue this open conversation. Do we continue to educate the ignorance. Do we continue to educate ourselves … What about when we wake up in two weeks, are you still going to fight the fight? For the good of your grandchild, son, daughter, whoever? Do we still want to fight the fight?”
Christie pointed out that the Sacramento community saved the Kings and highlighted the reciprocation we’re seeing.
“It’s a powerful thing that this community saved the Kings. And for the Kings to now bring it full circle and begin to talk to the community and help the community. I’m so proud of Vivek and the Kings and to be able to say the things that he said it’s just a powerful piece. Hopefully this is the spawn of something that is awesome.”
Sacramento, with the Kings taking unprecedented steps on the social justice front, and with a police chief working hand in hand with key community stakeholders, appears to be uniquely qualified to tackle these issues that have never been solved.
When the last child spoke at the South Sacramento Christian Church on Friday night, the crowd knew it was the most salient point.
“And I survive like this with hope.”