California city on edge after shooting of unarmed man

Don Thompson
Associated Press

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 interjected as other’s spoke.

The Rev. Al Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.

“This brother could be any one of us, so let them express and grieve,” Sharpton said as he delivered the eulogy with Stevante Clark clutching him around the neck. “We are proud of them for standing up for justice.”

Sharpton said young black men have been killed all over the country and it’s time to “stop this madness.”

About 500 people attended the funeral, where friends and family shared memories of Stephon Clark’s “keen dancing ability,” sense of humor and smarts, and his desire to be a good father to his two young sons. Speakers frequently started call and response chants of “I am – Stephon Clark.”

Clark’s name has sparked protests and calls for police reform in California and beyond. Families of people killed by police marched in Compton, calling for more transparency in use-of-force investigations.

In Sacramento, Sharpton and others chastised President Donald Trump for failing to comment on police shootings of young black men, which White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has called a local issue.

Meanwhile, police dramatically increased security outside the downtown NBA arena where protesters have twice blocked thousands of fans from entering for Sacramento Kings’ games. The team plays the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, and Stevante Clark has said protesters should not gather outside.

Two Sacramento police officers 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.

The near daily protests downtown have remained largely peaceful, with only a few instances of physical confrontations between protesters and police or other civilians.

Metal detectors and barricades were set up outside the Golden 1 Center in advance of Thursday night’s game, and fencing blocked off some stairs to an outdoor plaza surrounding the arena.

The Kings’ arena is the focal point of a downtown revitalization effort. The area has struggled economically and has a large homeless population.

The team announced plans to set up an education fund for Stephon Clark’s children and a partnership with Black Lives Matter Sacramento to bring “transformational change” to the city’s black communities.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he’s committed to working with Stevante Clark to bring more resources to his South Sacramento community.

The two spoke at the funeral, where Stevante Clark apologized for previously disrupting a City Council meeting by jumping on a desk, dancing and shouting his brother’s name at Steinberg.

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

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.”