A standing-room-only crowd packed into a church Thursday to celebrate the life of a 22-year-old black man who was shot to death by Sacramento police, prompting angry protests and a resolve to force changes in police departments around the country.
The musical and scriptural celebration of Stephon Clark was interrupted by his emotional brother Stevante, who hugged and kissed the casket, led the crowd in chants of his brother's name and interrupted speakers. The Rev. Al Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.
"We will never let you forget the name of Stephon Clark until we get justice," Sharpton thundered. "This is about justice. This is about standing with people with courage."
Later Thursday, about 100 protesters blocked downtown streets for the third day in a row during rush hour but did not prevent fans from entering a Sacramento Kings NBA game at a downtown arena as they had during two previous games. Stevante Clark had asked protesters not to block the game.
Security was heavy outside, with police standing in riot gear and fans entering through heavy fencing and metal detectors. The game between the Kings and Indiana Pacers began without disruption.
Clark was killed March 18 by two Sacramento police officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows. Video of the nighttime incident released by police shows a man later identified as Clark running into the backyard of his grandparent's home where police fired 20 rounds at him after screaming "gun, gun, gun."
It turned out Clark was holding a cellphone.
Emotions Raw at Stephon Clark’s Funeral
Inside the Bayside of South Sacramento church Thursday, two heart-shaped flower displays with ribbon read "Rest in Power" and "#Stephon Clark" stood on the ends of a light brown coffin. Family members were wearing red and black T-shirts honoring Clark.
Sharpton delivered his eulogy with Stevante Clark clutching him around the neck. The New York preacher said it was time to "stop this madness" of fatal shootings by police officers.
Clark's name has been a rallying cry at protests and calls for police reform in California and beyond. Families of people killed by police marched Thursday in Compton, calling for more transparency in use-of-force investigations, and the night before a small group of protesters gathered in New York City.
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In Sacramento, 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.
"That is a systemic problem, not a local problem," said Zaid Shakir, a prominent California imam and former spiritual adviser to Muhammad Ali. "That's an American problem, a uniquely American problem."
Omar Suleiman, another imam who spoke, warned of attempts by the press to attack Clark's character as a way to suggest he's not "worth fighting for."
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"The same media that humanizes white terrorists vilifies black victims," he said.
One supporter, Naz Ali-Prasad, told NBC Bay Area that she brought her 6-year-old son to the funeral because she believes law enforcement training needs to be improved.
"They didn’t see a gun. They just assumed [the cell phone] was a gun. And I question if they would have made that same assumption if it were a white man, in a backyard, in the dark," Ali-Prasad said.
Protesters Block Streets Demanding Justice for Stephon Clark
The near daily protests in downtown Sacramento have remained largely peaceful, with only a few instances of physical confrontations between protesters and police or other civilians. Several protesters Thursday approached a line of police on bicycles, with one holding up a cellphone and asking "is this a gun?"
At the funeral, Sharpton and others 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.
Down the street, metal detectors and barricades were set up outside the Golden 1 Center in advance of Thursday night's game between the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers, and fencing blocked off some stairs to an outdoor plaza surrounding the arena.
Emotions Run High at Sacramento Council Meeting
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 and helped pay for it.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he's committed to working with Stevante Clark to bring more resources to his South Sacramento community.
The two spoke at the funeral, where Stevante Clark apologized for previously disrupting a City Council meeting by jumping on a desk, dancing and shouting his brother's name at Steinberg.
"We're going to forgive the mayor, amen," Clark said at the funeral. "Everybody say they love the mayor."
Shernita Crosby, Stephon Clark's aunt, has said the family isn't "mad at all the law enforcement."
"We're not trying to start a riot," she said. "What we want the world to know is that we got to stop this because black lives matter."