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Hundreds attend Stephon Clark's funeral in Sacramento; demonstrators gather downtown afterward

The Rev. Al Sharpton flew 3,000 miles to Sacramento to attend the funeral of Stephon Clark, who was killed by police on March 18. Clark's death has renewed calls for a public conversation about police shootings and black men.

Stevante Clark's grief was palpable at his brother's funeral Thursday.

As the service was underway, an animated Clark moved throughout the church, hugging and kissing friends and family. He embraced the coffin of his brother Stephon and approached the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist who had flown 3,000 miles to Sacramento to attend the funeral.

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Clark called for student resource centers, libraries and stadiums to be built in his brother's name.

"Stephon is going to live on for generations, generations and generations," he said.

After the funeral, more than 100 demonstrators gathered in downtown Sacramento for the latest protest in more than a week of unrest. They briefly blocked the intersection of I and 8th streets, snarling traffic during rush hour.

At one point, Stevante Clark led the group in chants.

"I am!" he shouted.

"Stephon Clark!" the group yelled in response.

Aisha Pride showed up with her children, holding signs they made at home.

"I have three young sons and I want to make sure they see change in their lifetime," the 31-year-old said. "If we keep being quiet, nothing is going to change."

Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the crowd began to disperse. Soon after, the Sacramento Kings game began at the nearby Golden 1 Center. On two previous nights since the shooting, protesters have blocked fans from entering the stadium.

During Thursday's game, as police officers checked people's tickets, there was no sign of protesters, though a man shouted, "Say his name!" nearby.

Police shot Stephon Clark to death on March 18. His killing has renewed calls for a public conversation about police shootings and black men.

This week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the shooting was a "local matter" when asked about it by a reporter.

"No, this is not a local matter," Sharpton said at Clark's service. "They've been killing young black men all over the country, and we are here to say that we're going to stand with Stephon Clark and the leaders of this family. … This is about justice. This is about standing with people with courage."

Clark was confronted by officers who suspected him of breaking neighbors' windows and tracked him to a backyard that turned out to be his grandmother's. He was holding a cellphone when police shot him. An officer yelled, "Gun!" multiple times before the law enforcement pair opened fire.

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One by one, loved ones stood on the church stage to share memories of Clark, who left two sons and a fiancee.

A friend said that when they were younger, Clark didn't have an answer for what he wanted to be when he grew up. More recently, Clark finally had an answer: Simply, all he wanted to be was a "great dad."

His sister recalled his intellect. Stephon Clark went to a charter school and got good grades. His only complaint was how strict she was, she said.

Clark was affectionately known as "Big Papa" by friends and family. He loved football and dedicated his life to his fiancee, Salena, and his sons after his youngest boy, Cairo, was born last year. He loved making oatmeal for his sons in the morning before school and watching Netflix shows with their mother on the couch.

"There was nothing he wouldn't do for Salena and his sons," one woman at the service said.

More than an hour before Clark's funeral was set to begin, a line of more than 100 mourners snaked through the parking lot of the Bayside of South Sacramento Church. Some wore shirts bearing Clark's name or photograph. Others carried signs.

Shareef Ali didn't know Clark, but he came to support the family.

"It's shocking what happened to Stephon," he said. He said the next step will be police reform and hopefully a change in policies.

Lena Williams waited outside the church with her three children. She said the shooting wasn't surprising, but rather "common" and "expected."

She said she is glad people are "not being quiet."

"If we do things the right way, we can be an example," she said. She cautioned that residents don't yet know both sides, but said she hopes the Police Department can take a look at biases and policies.

"There's so much more to this," she said.

Michele Dilliehunt wore a shirt with two photographs of Clark on the back. She said she used to live near his family when her children, now 28 and 21, were growing up.

"The police have killed too many people and got away with it," she said. "No matter what, it was overkill."

She said she worries for other family members and hopes her young grandsons will never have to endure discrimination by police.

"It could have been my nephew or one of my grandsons," she said.

After the funeral, Sharpton stood outside the church to address a gaggle of reporters.

"There is no way that we can understand why an unarmed young man in his grandmother's backyard, five feet from where she sleeps, was shot at 20 times and killed," he said.

Sharpton said that police could have knocked on the door or called for backup.

"Why was the immediate thing to draw lethal force?" Sharpton asked.

Benjamin Crump, the attorney hired by the Clark family, cautioned protesters and asked people to refrain from violence.

"They chose violence to stop the existence of Stephon Clark in this life, therefore we must choose nonviolence to make sure that we protest, exercise our 1st Amendment rights in the most productive way possible because we know after this funeral, people are going to have passionate emotions," he said. "And we ask that everyone remain nonviolent."

After the March 18 shooting, police quickly released officers' body camera videos as well as radio transmissions. A series of protests has led to tense standoffs with police — including one that blocked Interstate 5 and another that prevented fans from getting into a Sacramento Kings basketball game — but officers have been restrained in their response, avoiding further escalation.

The encounter that ended Clark's life began when officers responded to a call about a man vandalizing vehicles, authorities said. The caller said the man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard, according to the Police Department.

A Sacramento County Sheriff's Department helicopter spotted a man in a backyard and directed police toward him, authorities said. Deputies told officers that the man had picked up a "toolbar" and broken the window of a home.

The man was seen running south, toward the front of the house, where he stopped and looked into another car, police said. Officers ordered him to stop and show his hands, but he ran. They chased him to the backyard, where, authorities say, he turned and advanced toward the officers holding what they thought was a gun.

Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their weapons 20 times, the department said. Clark, who was holding a cellphone, was pronounced dead at the scene.

In police videos, an officer is heard saying, "Hey, mute," before the sound cuts off, indicating that the audio recording had been stopped.

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Sacramento's police chief said the request to mute "builds suspicion" and is part of the investigation.

On Tuesday morning, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn announced an agreement intended to calm the city. It calls for the state Justice Department to provide independent oversight of the investigation of the shooting and to review Sacramento's police training and policies on the use of force.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg began Tuesday's community meeting at City Hall by offering the council's condolences to those affected by Clark's slaying.

"In the days, weeks and months ahead, you will be heard. It is our job to hear your truth and calls for change," he said.

St. John and Santa Cruz reported from Sacramento, Serna from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

9:15 p.m.: This article was updated with more protest details.

6:05 p.m.: This article was updated with details from a protest.

2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with Sharpton's comments to reporters following the funeral service.

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Sharpton, relatives and mourners.

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from people attending the funeral.

This article was originally published at noon.

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