‘They executed him’: police killing of Stephon Clark leaves family shattered

A young, unarmed black man was shot 20 times in his grandmothers backyard. Now his brother is fighting through grief to demand justice

They gunned him down like a dog, Stevante Clark said of the police shooting of his brother, Stephon. They executed him.

Stevante was in the back seat of a car, his voice quivering. He stomped his feet 20 times one for each bullet that police fired at his unarmed brother.

Twenty times. Thats like stepping on a roach. And then stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping.

The killing of Stephon Clark on 18 March by Sacramento police has sparked outrage and massive protests in the Californian capital, drawing comparisons with other cases of law enforcement killing unarmed black people, such as Oscar Grant, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Stephon, an unarmed 22-year-old father of two, was standing in his grandmothers backyard holding only his iPhone when officers, who did not announce they were police, appeared in the dark, shouted at him to reveal his hands and quickly fired a round of bullets at him before he could respond.

His brother, Stevante, 25, has been thrust into the national spotlight and forced to navigate media, protests, lawyers and donations while struggling through his own grief and anger.

I shouldnt have to defend my brother. They should be proving their innocence, Stevante told the Guardian on Sunday night, during an interview in his friends car. Im exhausted. I hate this. I hate my life.

At a time when debates about gun laws are dominating the news surrounding the March for Our Lives rallies organized by Florida students Clarks death has served as a harsh reminder that law enforcement fatally shoot hundreds of Americans each year, many more than those who die in mass shootings.

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Stevante Clark speaks to the crowd during a vigil to protest the police shooting of his brother, Stephon Clark. Photograph: Bob Strong/Reuters

For those mourning Stephon, police gun violence must not be forgotten. Who polices the police? said Darron Powe, a longtime family friend. We need a voice.

Sacramento police have said that officers were responding to calls of someone breaking into vehicles when they located Stephon. Body-camera footage showed police running in, shouting Show me your hands! and Gun! before shooting a rapid-fire succession of bullets at him less than 20 seconds after they arrived.

For five minutes, no officers approached Stephon or offered him medical aid, instead continuing to shout at him to show his hands. He was not moving. Officers eventually handcuffed his lifeless body. No weapon was in sight. Officers then muted the audio on their cameras.

Sequita Thompson, Stephons grandmother, was sitting in her dining room when she heard the boom boom boom, she said on Monday. Afraid of the bullets, she grabbed her seven-year-old granddaughter and they crawled to a bedroom.

Stephon, who went by the nickname Zoe, cared more about his two young sons, one and three, than anything in the world, his brother said. He also loved sneakers, dancing and making people smile. Stevante and Powe laughed Sunday night remembering some of Stephons favorite movie impressions Chris Tucker in Rush Hour and Kevin Hart in Soul Plane.

Stevante said he was tired of summarizing his brothers worth in a soundbite for the news. He also said he was fed up with reporters mentioning his brothers previous run-ins with the law and jail time, as if his past challenges justified his killing.

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Stephon Clark with his two sons. Photograph: Courtesy of the family

Why arent we talking about the polices mistakes? he said. My city is scared of police. Im scared to live here. I dont feel safe.

It doesnt matter who he was or what he did, added Luke Tailor, a 24-year-old friend of Stephon. Hes a human. That in itself is enough to fight for.

Like police forces in liberal states across the country, Sacramentos department has previously adopted reforms in the wake of controversy. In 2016, officers tried to run over a homeless man with a police car before shooting him dead.

The Sacramento mayor, Darrell Steinberg, initially released a statement saying he would not second-guess the officers, prompting swift backlash. In an interview Monday, he said the videos made him feel really sick and that the outcome was wrong.

He said: I really feel like this can be a moment for Sacramento and the country that shows another way is possible.

He declined, however, to say whether he felt charges were warranted.

To some, Stephons killing suggests little progress has been made. And despite the undisputed disturbing facts of the case, experts have suggested that police could easily avoid convictions since they would only have to prove that they felt they were in danger.

The chances of cops going to jail are very rare, said Stevante, adding: Were not going to get justice, because my brothers not coming back.

Last week, protesters shut down freeways and blocked NBA fans from entering the arena of the Sacramento Kings. The Kings have expressed support for Stephon.

At
At a game between the Boston Celtics and the Sacramento Kings, both teams wore T-shirts to honor Stephon Clark. Photograph: Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports

Looking at a photo of the stadium that remained largely empty due to protests, Stevantes eyes welled with tears: Stephon would be so proud. Stephon shut the whole place down.

He said he appreciated the support for his brother in Sacramento, but was skeptical the story would get the attention it deserves at a national level.

Locally, Stevante said he wanted the tragedy to spark change and hoped to build a library in his brothers honor while supporting other gun violence prevention efforts, such as breakfast programs and community centers.

Still, he said he did not think of himself as an activist or leader and struggled with the constant reminders of his brothers death people stopping him on the street, calls from reporters, social media postings. Hes avoided watching the police videos and many of the news reports.

Its hard to find relief, he said, noting that he was still unable to feel comfortable in his familys home where his brother died. Where can you fucking go if youre not safe at grandmas house?

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