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Stephon Clark killing by police is an American problem, says family attorney

Gospel music echoed and tears flowed as family and friends gathered at Stephon Clark's funeral in Sacramento, California. Clark's killing by two police officers in his grandmother's backyard has sparked unrest that has brought parts of the city to a near standstill. Yamiche Alcindor talks with Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Clark family.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tensions continue to run high in Sacramento, California, today, almost two week after city police killed a young African-American man during an investigation into local vandalism.

    Stephon Clark was shot dead in the backyard of a family member's home. His funeral was this afternoon.

    Yamiche Alcindor has this report.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Gospel music echoed and tears flowed as family and friends gathered at Stephon Clark's funeral to say a final goodbye.

  • Man:

    I would always come down to bug him and be like, what do you want to be when you grow up? He told me, the only thing he ever wanted to be is a great dad.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Delivering his eulogy along side Clark's brother, Reverend Al Sharpton pushed back against the White House's claim that the shooting is — quote — "a local matter."

  • Al Sharpton:

    No, this is not a local matter. They have been killing young black men all over the country. And we are here to say that we are going to stand with Stephon Clark and the leaders of this family. It's time for us to go down and stop this madness.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Stephon Clark's confrontation with police came on March 18.

  • 911 Operator:

    Male subject that broke some car windows, he's now hiding in the backyard.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    After reports of a man in a hoodie vandalizing cars, a police helicopter with an infrared camera spotted the 22-year-old. Two officers, one white, one black, confronted Clark outside his grandparents' home.

  • Man:

    Show me your hands! Stop!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Their body camera footage showed them cornering Clark, and shouting that he had a gun.

  • Man:

    Show me your hands. Gun! Gun! Gun!


  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    All told, they fired 20 shots. But Clark had been holding a cell phone, not a gun. The killing quickly sparked unrest that, at times, has brought parts of Sacramento to a near standstill.

  • Protesters:

    Stephon Clark! Stephon Clark!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On Tuesday, Clark's brother Stevante marched into a city council meeting and jumped up on the dais in front of Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

  • Stevante Clark:

    The chief of police got my brother killed. He don't care. He shows no emotion at all.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yesterday, Stevante Clark issued an apology to the mayor. Later, at the funeral, he was visibly distraught.

    There have also been angry demonstrations preventing fans from entering Sacramento Kings' basketball games. In turn, the players on Sunday wore warm-up shirts with slogans that said, "Accountability. We Are One" and "#StephonClark."

    Meanwhile, Police Chief Daniel Hahn announced California's attorney general will oversee the investigation into the shooting.

  • Daniel Hahn:

    Our city is at a critical point right now, and I believe this will build — help build faith and confidence in the investigation from our community.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Sworn in last August, Hahn is Sacramento's first black police chief. He took over as the city adopted major reforms after the 2016 police killing of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill black man.

    Clark's death has reignited the national debate on race and policing and follows other recent high-profile cases. They include the deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati. In each case, police were either not charged or charges were dropped.

    This week, the state of Louisiana also announced it will not charge two white officers in the shooting of Alton Sterling. He died in a struggle outside a Baton Rouge convenience store in 2016.

    Back in Sacramento, there have been appeals for calm, but officials are bracing for new protests.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For more on all this, I am joined by Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Stephon Clark's family.

    Thanks for joining me.

  • Benjamin Crump:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At Stephon Clark's funeral today, his brother seemed visibly shaken. Talk to me a little bit about this family's grief and the grief of so many families that you have represented.

  • Benjamin Crump:

    Well, Yamiche, it's very, very emotional, as you would imagine, having to bury a loved one, a brother, a son, a grandson, a father who was killed in the backyard of the house that they all grew up.

    It's just so emotional, especially for his grandmother, who her bedroom is less than five feet away from where her grandson was executed. So they're dealing with emotions and grieving in their own unique ways.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And the city released video that we just showed of Stephon Clark's last moments. There are some who have watched that video and said he should have surrendered to police and followed their instructions.

    What do you make of them who ask those questions? And what do you see from a legal perspective when you watch that video?

  • Benjamin Crump:

    When I watch the video, I see, number one, that Stephon Clark had no weapon, he had no gun, he was no threat to the police. He was running from the police. The police gave him no warning.

    They gave him no identification of who they were. And they also gave him no humanity after they executed him. I mean, they shot him 20 times. And when you think about that, they could have done so many things differently that was within their policy than to use the most lethal use of force possible, an execution.

    And so, for those people who say, well, this happened because he ran from the police, well, what about other instances where non-minorities and non-African-Americans actually murdered people in schools, actually put bombs in people's houses in Austin, Texas? The police followed them for hours, and yet they didn't shoot not one bullet.

    But an unarmed African-American man with a cell phone is unjustifiably and unnecessarily executed by police bullets.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, this killing has united kind of a new national conversation about this.

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about this. She said Stephon Clark's shooting death was a local matter and that such incidents should be held — should be handled by local authorities. What do you think of her comments?

  • Benjamin Crump:

    I think they are very problematic and troubling.

    We need our leaders to see young African-Americans, especially young African-American men, as part of the American fabric. And the fact that, in the last two years, 75 African-American men have been killed by police unarmed, now, that's a problem not just here in Sacramento, not just in Chicago, Illinois, for Laquan McDonald, not just Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, not with Terence Crutcher, who had his hands up on video with a helicopter ahead, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    It is an American problem, and we have to solve this problem together if our society is ever going to heal.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And you mentioned several different cities where incidents have happened.

    In Sacramento, they released the video pretty quickly after Stephon Clark died. The mayor there has also said that he's going to look at policing practices and look at police training.

    The investigation is still ongoing, but has the city of Sacramento's actions at all started to address the Clark family's concerns?

  • Benjamin Crump:

    Well, yes and no.

    They are very happy that the police tried to be transparent some way by releasing the video. However, you must remember the day after his execution, they put out a narrative that we believe was false that says Stephon Clark had a gun, that's why they had to execute him in the manner they did.

    Then they walked that back. And then, the next day, they said that, well, Stephon Clark had a toolbar or a crowbar, and that's why they had to execute him. And then they walked that back. And then, finally, they came clean and said, he had no weapon at all. All he had was a cell phone.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much for joining me. We are definitely going to be following this case closely. And I appreciate you coming on tonight.

  • Benjamin Crump:

    Thank you, Yamiche.

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