On Thursday the intersection of 47th Avenue and 44th Street in Sacramento, Calif., was filled with cars as family, friends and members of the community flocked to Bayside of South Sacramento Church to pay their last respects to 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who was gunned down by police officers March 18.
It was like watching crowds flocking to a concert.
In the last two weeks, the young man gunned down so senselessly by Sacramento police officers has become both a symbol of what is wrong in this country as well as a tethering point—pulling people together in the fight for justice.
Everyone wanted to pay their respects.
Outside the church, hundreds of people waited in line to gain access to the sanctuary where the funeral would take place. The crowd was so thick, the church’s pastor had to ask those who had arrived early to please move and make room so the family could have a place to sit.
Inside the sanctuary, Clark’s casket stood on a pedestal, flanked by two heart-shaped wreaths with a banner across them that read, “Rest in Power.”
The service was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. local time, but the large crowd of mourners attempting to get into the church prevented that from happening.
At 11:47 a.m., the service opened with a prayer followed by readings from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Imam Zaid Shakir then read from the Quran, his voice lifted in a melodic prayer.
The translation of his verse was, “Oh you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. ... And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do.”
The church’s BOSS Ministry praise team, consisting of girls who looked to be age 13 or younger, then performed a praise dance in Clark’s honor to the gospel song “Worth” by Anthony Brown and group therAPy.
As the dancers performed, Stevante Clark—Stephon’s brother—ran to the front of the church where members of the family were sitting and broke down in front of his brother’s coffin. He rushed forward and hugged it before being consoled and ushered off to the side by other mourners.
The Rev. Al Sharpton grabbed him in an embrace and attempted to calm him down.
He struggled heavily with containing his grief.
NAACP California President Alice Huffman then took the stage to give acknowledgments. She thanked the elected officials who came to pay their respects, and gave a special shoutout to the Sacramento Kings—who she said have shown exceptional care and support to the family.
As Huffman gave her remarks, Stevante Clark joined her at the podium and began making a speech of his own about his brother.
He called for Clark’s children and mother to be taken care of. He asked the crowd if they loved him, referring to himself, and led them in chants of his brother’s name.
He then told the crowd that everyone was mad at him and that there was talk of kicking him out of his own brother’s funeral.
Huffman regained control of the mic and thanked former NBA player Matt Barnes as well as NFL player Marshawn Lynch for the contributions they had made to the family. Barnes was in attendance at the service.
The pastor then asked the crowd to not judge the way in which the family expressed their grief.
When Sharpton took to the podium, he called for Stevante Clark to join him. Sharpton told the crowd: “You don’t tell people how to handle their pain. You don’t tell people, when you killed their loved one, how to grieve.
“We came for the family, we came for Stephon, we came because this boy should be alive today,” Sharpton continued.
Sharpton rebuked remarks made by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in which she called Clark’s shooting death “a local issue.”
The reverend told the crowd that elected officials had spoken to him and voiced concerns that activists and protesters had stopped traffic during demonstrations in the city.
“They stopped this young man’s life!” Sharpton exclaimed.
He noted that he’d flown 3,000 miles for the family.
“We’ve got their back!” he yelled.
Clark’s sister Shay Johnson spoke about her brother and said that Stephon was a good student who was in all-honors classes. She said that when he had trouble with his homework, he came to her.
“He was an amazing child. He was so smart. I thought he was going to be Morris Chestnut or bigger,” she said.
A friend took the mic to say that all Stephon Clark “wanted to be was a great dad.”
Various friends and family members took to the stage to sing gospel songs requested by Stevante Clark and Johnson, all in the name of their brother Stephon.
Omar Suleiman, founder of the Yaqeen Institute, told the gathered mourners: “This is a systemic problem, this isn’t a mistake. ... We are not here to pacify, we are here to amplify his voices. We will make sure that his kids grow up knowing there is an entire community that stood with him.”
Clark’s cousin Se’Quette Clark read a heartfelt poem about Stephon and the shooting that took his life called, “I, Too, Have a Dream.”
Stephon Clark was known as “Big Poppa” to his family. His obituary described him as a “giant character” with a “big personality” and “loving spirit.”
Clark was remembered as a loving father and fiance who got up each morning to make oatmeal for his sons, Aiden and Ciaro, as well as his fiancee, Salena Manni.
As he prepared to give the closing prayer, Sharpton told the crowd that Stephon’s two children were now “our responsibility.”
He also reminded the crowd that none of the protests in Stephon Clark’s name had been violent.
“We must stand for justice,” Sharpton said.
Before the service ended, Imam Shakir called out the names of the many victims of police violence.
“We’re tired of seeing our people dying!” Shakir shouted, calling police violence a “uniquely American problem.”
And that statement put a punctuation mark on what many have been feeling since Clark’s shooting.
Clark is but the latest example of a problem that plagues our country without a cure. As Shakir said, it is “a sickness in our hearts.”
On Thursday, a young father, brother, son, grandson, cousin and friend was laid to rest all too soon—because America has a sickness in its heart.