Cities across the United States marched for an end to gun violence on March 17, only to be followed by an all too familiar murder by gunfire on March 18. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man living in Sacramento, California, was killed after 20 shots were fired at him by two police officers who believed that Clark had a gun. The names of the police officers are not currently being released by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department.
The supposed gun was actually a cell phone, and Clark was shot in his grandmother’s backyard. The initial police response came after a tip was made about a man breaking car windows in a neighborhood. The police pursued a man, later identified as Clark, who jumped a fence onto his grandmother’s property.
According to the police, the 20 deadly shots were fired after officers believed Clark was pointing a gun at them. The body cameras of the police officers give a visual retelling of the haunting story. Adding to the scrutiny is that the two officers cut their audio off when responding officers joined the scene.
Many things are still unclear after the death of Clark. Questions are filling news outlets about how many shots hit Clark, why the officers turned off their audio and if Clark was the one who busted the car windows. What is clear and what needs to be focused on is the reality that another unarmed black man has died due to excessive police force.
Clark’s funeral was on Thursday, where he was surrounded by hundreds of mourners. This included Reverend Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist who delivered the eulogy.
“You don’t tell people in pain how to handle their pain. You don’t tell people when you kill their loved one how to grieve. We did not come for you uppity-bourgeois proper folk, we came for Ste’vante, we came for the family, we came because this boy should still be alive today,” said Sharpton. “Yesterday, the president’s press secretary said this was a local matter. No this is not a local matter. They’ve been killing young black men all over the country and we are here to say that we are going to stand with Stephon Clark and leaders of his family.”
Sharpton urged attendees to turn the mourning of Clark’s death into a surge of activism against police violence.
“We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice.”
The death of Clark has reignited similar protests held in the past years in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri and Charlotte, North Carolina. Protesters who were led by Clark’s brother Ste’vante took over Sacramento’s City Hall lobby and shut down the meeting. Ste’vante confronted Sacramento mayor, Darrell Steinberg and interrupted a speech to take the stage and start a call-response chant of “I am Stephon.”
Later on, hundreds of protesters blocked ticket-holders from entering the stadium of the Sacramento Kings basketball game. Following this demonstration, the Kings announced partnerships with activist groups such as Black Lives Matters to fund education for young black men and have promised to pay for the schooling of Clark’s children.
The investigation behind the death of Clark is continuing, but an independent autopsy ordered by Clark’s family was released to the public on Sunday. The exam shows that eight bullets hit the back or side of Clark, none coming from the front, contradicting police remarks that the victim was moving towards them when they fired.
“This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the Clark family.