By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Wanda Johnson, right, and Sequette Clark, left, embrace each other at the Legacy Weekend Rally at the State Capitol on March 18. The mothers lost their sons to police violence and are on crusades to prevent such killings. Johnson is the mother of deceased Oscar Grant and Clark is the mother of Stephon Clark who was killed by two cops in South Sacramento four years ago. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

It was four years ago this month when two Sacramento police officers fatally shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandparents’ South Sacramento home.

On March 18 of this year, the four-year observance of Clark’s murder, Wanda Johnson was at the State Capitol to pay homage to the father of two young boys and the families of other victims who died at the hands of police violence. 

Johnson is the mother of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer in 2009 at the Fruitvale station in Oakland. She spoke at the Clark-Thompson family’s fourth annual Legacy Celebration.

“Justice is not just coming out here to support Stephon Clark today but it’s to come out to fight every day,” Johnson said on a stage in front of the State Capitol. “We gotta get some laws changed. How do we get the laws changed? When it is time to lobby, when it’s time to come together, we come together for that purpose. To change the way that our people are being killed.” 

Grant’s death drew national attention to the growing number of unarmed Black men, women, and children who die at the hands of police officers. With the deaths of Clark, George Floyd in 2020, and countless others, the push for police reform continues, Johnson said. 

Johnson has become an amplified, supporting voice for mothers and social justice organizers seeking to put an end to systemic racism in the country and police departments across America. When Grant was murdered in 2009, Johnson embarked on a journey to turn that pain into purpose, something that the Clark-Thompson family has vowed to do since losing Stephon Clark. Johnson started the Oscar Grant Foundation in 2010 to help mend the distrust between residents in predominantly Black, high-crime communities and law enforcement. 

An advocate for justice and accountability, Johnson used this tragedy to travel around the world and share her story with thousands of people. She has been working side-by-side with the mothers of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and many other families.

Now she is working alongside Sequette Clark, the mother of Stephon Clark.

“Together we can stand strong but divided we will fall,”  Johnson said of collaborating with families. “I say to you today that the journey that we are on is not given to the strong … it is given to the one that will endure to the end. It’s just like a boxer: if we take a blow, if we take a defeat, we don’t get out of the ring. We continue to fight to ensure justice is served.”

According to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit group that tracks police shootings, police killed 1,136 people in the U.S. in 2021. In California, 156 people were killed by the police last year. Blacks are 3.6 times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts in California. 

According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about 195 people die each year from interactions with California law enforcement. Gunshots are by far the most common cause of death where almost 250 people are shot by police each year.

PPIC, a nonprofit organization based out of San Francisco, aims to inform and improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.

In May of 2020, the murder of Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chavin ignited widespread protests and calls for police reform. 

In 2019, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 392, “the Stephon Clark law,” which changed the standard for deadly force from when reasonable “to effect an arrest” to when “necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person.”

Stevante Clark, brother of slain father Stephon Clark, helped to organize the Legacy Celebration held at the State Capitol on March 18 — the four-year observance of Clark’s murder. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

Johnson helped kick off the The “National Justice And Accountability March” at the event hosted by the Clark-Thompson family. 

Stevante Clark, Stephon’s older brother, told The OBSERVER that the event is a “therapeutic restoration process” that bridges the gap between law enforcement and at-risk communities.

The weekend of festivities included a march around the State Capitol, activities at Stephon’s House Resource Center, a candlelight reflection at Improv Alley, a mothers’ brunch at Queen Sheba’s restaurant and a strategic justice panel at the Guild Theatre in Oak Park.

“This is a movement. Not a moment,” Stevante Clark said. “Over 1,000 people die every year by law enforcement. My goal is to prevent [what happened to] Stephon from ever happening again.”