Stephon Clark was buried Thursday following a funeral service bristling with politics and raw emotion for the 22-year-old Sacramento man whose shooting death by police 11 days ago has sparked protests and calls for police reform while drawing national attention to the city.
As many as 500 mourners packed into Bayside of South Sacramento Church, where speakers such as national civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton bemoaned the deaths of black men at the hands of police and scolded President Donald Trump for not speaking out. Hundreds of additional mourners lingered outside in the sun, unable to get inside the church. TV trucks stood parked out front.
Clark’s brother Stevante Clark hurried to the front of the church after the opening prayers and threw himself on the casket as performers danced. Sharpton and others hugged him and spoke to him, attempting to calm him. Stevante, who caused an outburst at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, grabbed the microphone from the NAACP’s Alice Huffman and shouted, “Louder! Louder!” as some in the church chanted his brother’s name.
“The Clark family will never die,” he added.
He vowed to get a community resource center and library built in his brother’s name. Clark, who has apologized to Mayor Darrell Steinberg for confronting him at the council meeting, told the mourners: “We’re gonna forgive the mayor. Amen? Everybody say ‘we love the mayor.’ He’s going to help us get … the resource center done, and if he doesn’t we’re going to hold him accountable.
“Everyone’s crying, everyone’s upset with me, everybody’s mad at me for caring about black people and my brother,” he said, before being ushered away. “I’m going to leave the country and go away because everybody’s mad at me.”
A minute later, Sharpton, who flew in from the East Coast to deliver the eulogy, brought Clark back onto the stage, his arm around the young man.
“You don’t tell people in pain how to handle their pain!” Sharpton said. “You don’t tell people when you kill their loved one how to grieve. We came because this boy should be alive today … It’s time … to stop the madness. We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice. This is about justice.”
Sharpton stood before Clark’s casket, which had been delivered to the church in a white hearse and was set near a heart-shaped floral display with a sash saying, “Rest in Power.”
Sharpton defended the protests, some of which have prevented fans from entering Kings games. “I want the folk in California to know there is nothing wrong with the way these young people are standing up. They are trying to express their pain. We got their back!”
Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police in the backyard of his grandmother’s house just before 9:30 p.m. on March 18. Officers had been called to the 7500 block of 29th Street in Meadowview with reports of someone breaking car windows. Deputies in a sheriff’s helicopter spotted Clark, and officers on foot followed him into the backyard, where they shot at him 20 times, saying they believed he had a gun. They later determined he was holding a cellphone.
Police released videos of the shooting two days later, sparking protests and national outrage, calls for the officers to be convicted and numerous calls for police reform.
Clark was the father of two sons, Aiden, 3, and Cairo, 1, with his fiancée Salena Manni. A memorial service handout described Clark as a former David Reese Elementary School and Sacramento High School student, known to family as “Big Poppa,” who was “taken from us far too early.”
While some friends and family spoke about Clark, much of the service focused on the political and social implications of Clark’s death.
Berkeley Imam Zaid Shakir, who also spoke at Muhammad Ali’s 2016 funeral, challenged the Trump administration’s statement earlier this week that the Clark shooting was “a local issue.”
He listed more than 20 people who have been killed nationally in gunfire the last few years, many at the hands of police.
“That is a systemic problem!” he said. “Not a local problem. Not a Sacramento problem. It is a uniquely American problem.”
He said the American heart is diseased and needs to be cured, “So we recognize every one of us is our brother or our sister, black, brown, white … if you have some polka dot people, they are our brothers and sisters.”
Sharpton also called the Clark killing a national issue, even if Trump has been “on mute,” just as several police officers did on their body-cam recorders in the minutes after Clark was shot. “This is a national issue that this president wants to ignore.”
“We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice.,” he said. “Stephon Clark has woke up the nation.”
Clark’s death has become a signature moment in Sacramento, throwing the city into more than a week of turmoil.
Protesters have marched in the streets several times since his death, blocking cars, breaking a bus window and briefly marching onto Interstate 5, shutting it down. Protesters succeeded in blocking Sacramento Kings fans from entering games at the downtown Golden 1 Center in the past week.
To date, the protests have been largely nonviolent, although passionate and loud.
Kings officials, who have expressed sympathy for the Clark family and respect for nonviolent protests, on Thursday announced the Kings are teaming up with a new group that includes Black Lives Matter to provide college funds for Clark’s two children and to push an initiative to improve lives of black youths, including supporting education and economic development.
Ex-King and Sacramento native Matt Barnes, who had helped pay for the funeral, said he is pleased with the Kings’ response to the shooting and the ensuing protests. “The Kings need to take the lead on this. I think they’ve done a great job.”
Black Lives Matter launched another demonstration later Thursday outside the office of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, the third in three days. Tanya Faison, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Sacramento, said she doesn’t believe Schubert can independently investigate the shooting. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra this week said he would step in and conduct an investigation.
Several speakers after the service called for community calm, among them Florida civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is investigating the shooting for the Clark family.
“We know that after this funeral the people are going to have passionate emotions. We ask that everybody remain nonviolent,” he said, alluding to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
He said the family’s independent investigation into the shooting continues. “As we go forward with our investigation and our autopsy reports, we will make sure it is transparent,” he said. He said the investigation is designed to give the Clark family “peace of mind, to give their children peace of mind, to give America peace of mind.”
Andre Young, Clark’s cousin, attended Thursday’s funeral and urged those marching on behalf of Clark to “humble your heart” and remain peaceful. He called on police officers to change how they interact with the African American community.
“All the police all around America got to stop having this perception of black people,” he said. Stevante Clark spoke with reporters and well-wishers as well outside the service, saying he wants to attend a peace rally Saturday afternoon at Cesar Chavez Park organized by Barnes. He spoke against any potential further protest efforts to shut the Kings arena down.
“I don’t want to shut down the Kings’ arena; I used to work for the Kings,” he said. Kings officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
As he rode away, he stuck his head out the car window and chanted his brother’s name several times.