A dramatic day of protest Thursday over the shooting of a young unarmed black man began at Sacramento City Hall, shut down Interstate 5 during rush hour and culminated with hundreds of protesters surrounding Golden 1 Center and blocking most ticket holders from entering the downtown arena for a Sacramento Kings game.

In the end, there were no arrests and, aside from a few scuffles, little violence.

“This is an epic day for black Sacramento,” said Brrazey Liberty, a musician and activist with Black Lives Matter. “We feel like we had a victory today. Today was ours.”

The demonstrators were protesting Sunday’s fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, 22, who was holding only a cellphone when two Sacramento police officers fired 20 rounds at him in the backyard of his grandparents’ home. The officers believed Clark was a burglary suspect who was armed, authorities said.

The demonstration began near City Hall around 3 p.m. Protesters entered the building chanting “Face the people!” and moved back outside onto I Street before making their way to the freeway. They stood in front of a big rig and other vehicles chanting, “Don’t shoot. It’s a cellphone!” They also started yelling, “We don’t want you,” as a California Highway Patrol helicopter flew overhead.

The protest snarled traffic around central city freeways, with cars backed up nearly a mile south on I-5 toward Sutterville Road and on the westbound W/X freeway. Around 5:30 p.m., southbound lanes reopened. It took another 30-plus minutes for protesters to leave northbound lanes. Around 6:15 p.m., the protest moved from the freeway to the main spectator entrance of Golden 1 Center.

Arena security personnel locked entrances to the stadium and abandoned equipment outside.

Fans lined up waiting to get into the game while protesters chanted, “Shut it down!” and held Black Lives Matter banners. They formed a human chain across the arena’s doors.

“Stephon couldn’t be here to watch a game. These people aren’t going to be here to watch this game,” Liberty said.

The Kings delayed the start of the game against the Atlanta Hawks but didn’t cancel it. The result was that the teams tipped off in a largely empty Golden 1 Center.

Only about 2,000 people out of more than 17,000 ticket holders took their seats.

At 7:41 p.m. the Kings issued a statement saying they wouldn’t admit any more fans.

Tonight’s game began with a delay,” the statement said. “Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home.”

The team said fans who purchased tickets directly through the Sacramento Kings or Ticketmaster will receive instructions on how to receive a full refund.

On the TV broadcast at tipoff, Kings play-by-play announcer Grant Napear said to colleague Jerry Reynolds, “You and I have been doing this a long time and this is a first … to see a home game look like this.”

During the protest, police parked 17 vehicles near the arena in St. Rose of Lima Park, and a group of about 15 officers in riot gear marched double-file into the arena’s plaza at about 7:30 p.m. They stood at a distance, watching the protesters, and after 10 minutes went back to the park.

The protest was noisy and passionate but hadn’t turned violent as of around 8:15 p.m., when about 100 protesters continued blocking the arena’s front entrance while others blocked the side doors. Later the protesters began dispersing.

The demonstration ended “with no arrests made,” Sacramento police Capt. Norm Leong wrote on Twitter at 9 p.m., during the game’s fourth quarter. Leong said police will attempt to do a follow-up investigation regarding a damaged metal detector, but he said police used their discretion in deciding not to make any arrests during the protests, despite the disruptions on city streets, the freeway, and at the arena.

“We handle a lot of protests, and every one is different,” he said. “In this case, we did what we could to facilitate the safety of everyone involved. Our decision is based on what we are seeing.”

Some ticket holders who were locked out of the arena expressed sympathy with the protesters’ cause but said they were upset about missing the game. “Their rights don’t supersede everyone else’s,” Doug Hillblon, from the Elk Grove area, said as he waited with with his wife and a family friend outside the arena. He said he thought the protesters had gone too far by blocking admission to Kings fans.

Many of those fans began to disperse shortly before 8 p.m. They included Fermin Rodriguez, who had brought his wife and four children for their one Kings game this season.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said, standing in the plaza outside the arena and watching protesters blocking the side-entry door. “I mean, I feel their pain, but why do we have to suffer as well? We paid a lot of money for these tickets. I hope they give us a refund.”

On 5th Street, five Kings fans leaving the area gave fist bumps to police officers and told them, “We support you.” Others said the shooting of Clark justified the protesters’ actions. Kings season-ticket holder Barbara Mitchell, who is African American, was among those who were blocked from getting into the arena, but she said she wasn’t upset about the protest.

“I am appalled by what happened to the young man,” she said. “It was a travesty. So as much as I love basketball, it’s OK. I’m not angry. I admire them for taking the time to protest an injustice.”

Vivek Randive, the Kings’ principal owner, took the microphone on court after the game to acknowledge the community turmoil over Clark’s killing.

“We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place starting with our own community … to prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again.”

Source: Sacramento Bee