On March 18th, Sacramento police shot and killed a 22-year-old black man named Stephon Clark.
They fired over twenty shots at Clark in his own backyard, reportedly thinking he had a gun in his hand — he turned out to be holding an iPhone. Clark leaves behind a broken family and an entire community in anguish.
Time and time again, police officers have killed nonviolent civilians with little to no consequence. Nothing seems to change when black men and women die at the hands of law enforcement; it is truly painful to see American institutions treat their lives as almost worthless. Sadly, California has one of the highest police killing rates in the country
On Thursday night, protestors made their way from Sacramento’s city hall to the Golden 1 Center. Security eventually blocked off any entry to the arena, leaving protesters and ticket holders outside. Only a fraction of the ticket holders made it inside to watch the game, which began after a delay.
After the game, Vivek Ranadive, the Kings’ owner, addressed the crowd. A former minority owner of the Warriors, he’s a powerful figure in Silicon Valley. He famously coached his 12-year-old daughter’s basketball team to the national finals using a full-court press. As he stated during the speech, he’s been given a rather significant platform and there is some responsibility that comes with it.
And for an impromptu speech, Ranadive did a pretty good job.
Kings owner and chairman @Vivek addresses the crowd following tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/yVODGnPovs— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 23, 2018
The bar is low for billionaire owners to clear, but he clearly passed it: he pointed out the death was unnecessary, and said he would work to help fix the problem in the future. He showed humility and understanding towards the protesters.
On the other hand, his speech was purposefully vague: it didn’t mention racism or police brutality. Much has been said about whether the content of the speech was enough, but it’s not what Ranadive said that’s most noteworthy. What’s most important is that the protest forced him to give a statement, forced a billionaire to use his platform to amplify their message—that collective action by hundreds can spread the word to millions. There are some people who will know Stephon Clark’s name and ponder his life and death because of this speech, and that is necessary.
Large protests are difficult to manage and control, but this one checked all the boxes: it was disruptive, it was safe, and it received national attention. Ranadive treating the protesters with respect is as good as an outcome the protesters could’ve hoped for. Ultimately, the protest in his name is much more powerful and permanent than missing a basketball game or the words Ranadive gave. Our conversation, going forward, should revolve around the meaning of the protest, the humanity of the protestors, and what we can do as a society to eliminate tragedies from these from ever happening again.
The content of Ranadive’s speech was decent, but not fantastic. The whole event — the protest, the disruption of the game in addition to the speech — however, was still a great win for those who bravely sought justice Thursday night. It’s a reminder that organized action can make people from all over the country listen and think about American society’s most pressing ills.