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Tensions high as city mourns unarmed man killed by police

Tensions high as city mourns unarmed man killed by police
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Family, friends and strangers, some expressing anger and frustration, gathered in Sacramento on Wednesday for a public wake for 22-year-old Stephon Clark, an unarmed man shot by police in his grandparents’ backyard.

Some attendees wore black shirts calling for justice, while one woman held up a clenched fist as she exited the Bayside of South Sacramento church. The wake was largely quiet until Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, shouted at the media to leave before being picked up and carried away.

The outburst came a day after he disrupted a Sacramento City Council meeting and chanted his brother’s name at Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Some said the two police officers who shot Clark should be criminally charged, while other mourners said they could envision their own families in Clark’s family’s place.

“This feels like the ’60s, it doesn’t feel like 2018. We’ve definitely regressed,” said Cynthia Brown, a friend of Clark’s grandfather who brought her 10- and 15-year-old grandsons to the wake. “To me, (they) could be Stephon Clark.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton plans to deliver the eulogy at Clark’s funeral on Thursday.

Tensions remain high in California’s capital city following the March 18 shooting. Two police officers who were responding to a report of someone breaking car windows fatally shot him in his grandparents’ backyard. Police say they believe Clark was the suspect and he ran when a police helicopter responded, then did not obey officers’ orders.

Police say they thought Clark was holding a gun when he moved toward them, but he was found only with a cellphone.

Many mourners weren’t buying that narrative.

“You always feel threatened — you’re a law enforcement officer, it comes with your job title,” said Rahim Wasi. “That doesn’t give you a right to go running around like Clint Eastwood in a movie.”

Some of Clark’s relatives were more conciliatory.

“We’re not mad at all the law enforcement. We’re not trying to start a riot,” said Shernita Crosby, Stephon Clark’s aunt. “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 “more than just a hashtag.”

He was outgoing, funny, loving, a good-looking man who liked to dress sharp and the doting father of two young sons.

“He made some mistakes in his life, but he was genuinely a good person,” she said.

Protests have been held almost daily in town and on Wednesday, hundreds of people marched in New York City to protest the shooting. Police there said someone threw a bottle at an officer and at least 11 people were detained as tensions flared.

Sacramento marchers have twice blocked fans from entering the NBA arena downtown for Sacramento Kings games.

The Kings warned Wednesday that there will be a “significant” police presence in and around the Golden 1 Center on Thursday to keep protesters from reaching the plaza and blocking fans for a third time.

Sgt. Vince Chandler said officers would be ready to respond in protective gear, according to The Sacramento Bee.

There also will be additional stadium security and barriers along with ticket checks at the plaza outskirts.

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.

They disrupted midtown rush hour traffic as they marched through the streets. Latavia Ross, pushing her 2-year-old son Jayceon Hurts in a stroller, said she attended the protest because she thinks it’s good for the community to come together to end to gun violence.

Meanwhile, Steinberg said disruptions like Stevante Clark’s at Tuesday’s council meeting won’t happen again.

“That sort of demonstration in the council chamber cannot happen again. It won’t happen again. But in that moment, that was a brother grieving for the loss of his brother,” he said.

For all the angst and raw emotions, some grieving and weary family members are skeptical that any substantive change will result before the next young black man dies from police gunfire and siphons away the national media and banner headlines.

“You know, sadly, I have no confidence in America and the fact that I will probably hear another story sometime this year of an innocent life lost over excessive police force,” Curtis Gordon, Clark’s uncle and the family’s spokesman, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. “It’s so common, you’re numb to it.”

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.”

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Associated Press writer Sophia Bollag and videographer Haven Daley contributed to this story.

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