After the white hearse, trailed by a van from the funeral company that repaired Stephon Clark’s broken body, pulled into the Boss Bayside church in South Sacramento, dozens of mourners began filing in to view the dead man.
It was 1 pm on March 28, a hot, cloudless day, more than a week after Clark, wielding nothing more lethal than a cell phone, was gunned down by local police officers; more than a week into raucous, angry protests that have transfixed Sacramento and, in recent days, spread nationally. Black Lives Matter and an array of other groups have blockaded local light-rail stops, barricaded entrances to the city’s basketball arena before games—getting into angry verbal confrontations with fans who tried to enter—blocked freeways, stormed a city-council meeting, and surrounded the county DA’s offices with chanting, placard-waving protesters.
Twenty-two-year-old Clark was shot multiple times on the evening of March 18, after Sacramento police responded to reports that a young black man had been going up and down a street breaking car windows. He was spotted by a circling police helicopter, tracked down in what turned out to be his grandparents’ backyard by two officers, and brought down in a hail of bullets.
Clark’s elderly, disabled grandparents heard the shots, called the police to notify them of the gunplay, and then sat in their living room talking to the responding officers at length about what they had heard. At no point did the officers tell them that the Sacramento police had shot someone in their backyard. Only after they had left, when the grandmother pulled back the blinds and looked out the window, did they realize that there was a body in their garden, and that that body was their grandson. There is, even by the cruel standards of this era, a peculiar grotesquerie to this macabre sequence of events.
“Say his name: Stephon Clark!” chanted several hundred demonstrators repeatedly. Some of them were affiliated with Black Lives Matter, others with a local group called Voices of Youth, still others with an activist organization named Law Enforcement Accountability Directive. They challenged DA Anne Marie Schubert—who has avoided indicting officers in excessive-force cases in the past—to prosecute the two officers who shot Clark. “No justice, no peace!” they cried. “Indict; convict; send those killer cops to jail!” “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” “You shoot us down, we shut you down!”