‘This is about justice:’ Emotional plea to end police killings at funeral for Stephon Clark

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A standing-room-only crowd packed into a church Thursday to celebrate the life of a 22-year-old black man who was shot to death by Sacramento police, prompting angry protests and a resolve to force changes in police departments around the country.

The musical and scriptural celebration of Stephon Clark was interrupted by his emotional brother Stevante, who hugged and kissed the casket, led the crowd in chants of his brother’s name and interrupted speakers. The Rev. Al Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.

“We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice,” Sharpton thundered. “This is about justice. This is about standing with people with courage.”

City officials braced for more protests as mourners gathered at Bayside of South Sacramento church.

Some mourners at Wednesday’s wake predicted increased unrest beyond the unruly but mostly nonviolent protests that have disrupted traffic and two professional basketball games since the March 18 shooting.

Sharpton delivered his eulogy with Stevante Clark clutching him around the neck. The New York preacher said it was time to “stop this madness” of fatal shootings by police officers.

Two Sacramento police officers who were responding to a report of someone breaking car windows fatally shot Clark. Video of the nighttime incident released by police shows a man later identified as Clark running into the backyard where police fired 20 rounds at him after screaming “gun, gun, gun.”

It turned out Clark was holding a cellphone.

Some mourners attending Wednesday’s wake called for police to face criminal charges or donned black shirts calling for justice.

The family’s raw grief was on display when Stevante Clark had to be physically restrained while confronting members of the media gathered outside the wake. The outburst came a day after he disrupted a Sacramento City Council meeting and screamed his brother’s name at Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Stevante Clark later apologized for his behavior. At the funeral, he addressed Steinberg, who was one of the few white people in the audience that included former Sacramento Kings player Matt Barnes.

“We’re going to forgive the mayor, amen,” Clark said. “Everybody say they love the mayor.”

Clark and Sharpton also led people in a call and response, shouting, “I am,” and the crowd responding, “Stephon Clark.”

Shernita Crosby, Stephon Clark’s aunt, has said the family isn’t “mad at all the law enforcement.”

“We’re not trying to start a riot,” she said. “What we want the world to know is that we got to stop this because black lives matter.”

Cousin Suzette Clark said the family wants Stephon Clark remembered as an outgoing, funny, handsome, loving father of two young sons — “more than just a hashtag.”

Authorities are working to avoid a repeat of the protests that have twice blocked fans from entering the NBA arena downtown for Sacramento Kings games.

In a statement posted on the Kings’ website, the team said it is partnering with Black Lives Matter and is creating an education fund for Clark’s children.

The team also said it is partnering with a group of local leaders called “Build. Black. Coalition.” to support what it terms “transformational change” for black communities in Sacramento.

On Wednesday, about 50 protesters took over the intersection near the Sacramento district attorney’s office as part of a protest organized by the local Black Lives Matter chapter to urge the district attorney to file charges against the officers who shot Clark. In New York City, hundreds of people marched to protest the shooting and at least 11 people were detained as tensions flared.

Meanwhile, Steinberg said disruptions like Stevante Clark’s at Tuesday’s council meeting won’t happen again. “But in that moment, that was a brother grieving for the loss of his brother,” he said.

The California attorney general’s office on Tuesday joined the investigation, a move Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said he hopes will bring “faith and transparency” to a case that he said has sparked “extremely high emotions, anger and hurt in our city.”