SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hours after an emotional interruption at his brother’s funeral, Stevante Clark helped defuse tension in California’s capital city by asking protesters not to block thousands of fans from entering a downtown NBA arena for a third night.
Police in riot gear stood waiting outside the Golden 1 Center as fans wove through barricades and fencing Thursday to enter for a Sacramento Kings-Indiana Pacers game. But protesters never came, heeding calls from Stevante Clark and Black Lives Matter organizers to avoid the arena. Instead, they blocked rush hour traffic on nearby downtown streets.
The March 18 shooting of Stephon Clark, 22, by Sacramento police officers has sparked near daily protests downtown, with his name becoming a rallying cry for police reform in California and beyond.
Two officers responding to a call of someone breaking car windows shouted that Clark had a gun before firing 20 bullets at him, but he had only a cellphone. The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, will on Friday release results of an independent autopsy.
Delivering Stephon Clark’s eulogy Thursday, the Rev. Al Sharpton praised demonstrators for their restraint and urged them to follow the lead of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his advocacy of nonviolent protest.
"I want the folks in California to know that there’s nothing wrong with how these young people are standing up," he thundered. "They’re not being violent, they’re asking for you to stop being violent to them."
More than 500 people packed into the church to celebrate Stephon Clark’s life, remembering his dance moves, smarts and love for his two young sons.
Stevante Clark interrupted the musical and scriptural celebration by hugging and kissing the casket, leading the crowd in chanting his brother’s name, pounding his chest and shouting. Others on the stage attempted to calm him, with limited success.
Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.
"This brother could be any one of us, so let them express and grieve," Sharpton said. "We are proud of them for standing up for justice."
The Kings and their owner have been supportive of the Clark family.
The team announced plans to set up an education fund for Stephon Clark’s children and a partnership with Black Lives Matter Sacramento to bring "transformational change" to the city’s black communities. Former Kings player Matt Barnes attended the funeral, as did Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who promised to work with Stevante Clark days after he disrupted a City Council meeting.
The protests have caused disruption, though largely peaceful, around the arena, a focal point of the city’s revitalization efforts in a downtown that’s struggled economically and has a heavy homeless population. Some businesses have been shutting down early while commuters have been snarled in rush hour traffic due to closed streets during the protests.
West Sacramento resident Onyeabo Aduba, 33, said he canceled reservations Thursday at a restaurant near the arena for his girlfriend’s birthday because of the protests. But Aduba said he’s supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and frustrated that efforts such as requiring police to wear body cameras haven’t made real change.
He said the community’s level of support for the demonstrators has been surprising.
"Sacramento is more liberal than conservative but I think it’s a pretty neutral city," he said. "I’ve been surprised by the amount of compassion from people."
Turning the focus nationally, Sharpton and others chastised President Donald Trump for failing to comment on police shootings of young black men. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the Clark shooting and demurred, referring to it as a local issue.
Associated Press reporters Kathleen Ronayne and Haven Daley in Sacramento, John Antczak and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed.