by Emma Rosewood
Nearly three years ago, Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard. The officers were responding to a neighborhood vandalism complaint and mistook a phone in Clark’s hand for a gun.
They were never charged and continue to patrol the streets of Sacramento.
The world got to know Stephon Clark from his tragic death at the hands of law enforcement. Clark’s death inspired widespread protest in Sacramento – eventually shutting down freeways and delaying NBA games.
Those who cared about Clark knew him as more than just a headline.
Clark is remembered as a goofy young man from a broken home. Clark made a strong effort to change his life for the better, and to move past his previous mistakes.
Clark was born on Aug. 10, 1995, to Stephen and Sequette Clark. He was raised in tough neighborhoods in South Sacramento, characterized by tense relationships with local law enforcement. Clark and his siblings were raised by his mother, Sequette, and his grandmother, Sequita. When Clark was 10, his older brother, De’Markus McKinnie, died at 16 in what was determined to be an accidental shooting. McKinnie was fatally shot in the abdomen with a shotgun.
Clark was nicknamed “Zoe,” short for his middle name, Alonzo.
From a young age, Clark was known for his charismatic, polite personality. He loved dancing and spending time with family. Despite a hard upbringing, he still found ways to have fun. Clark’s older brother Stevante said he paid for Stephon’s Pee Wee football dues with money he earned selling newspapers.
Clark’s love for sports would last his entire life. He would go on to play cornerback for Sac High’s varsity football team in 2011 with dreams of eventually playing in the NFL. While attending Sac High from 2010 to 2013, Clark left the school faculty with warm memories.
“He got an A on every single test I gave him,” recalled Clark’s history teacher, Paul Schwinn.
“Every time he spoke in class, he had the right answer, and he always explained history in a funny, accessible way. He was someone who made first period fun for me and his classmates.”
Clark’s assistant principal, Patrick Durant, said: “[He] made an impact on everyone he met, including teachers, staff and students. He was a friendly kid with great manners.”
He was known amongst his peers for his infectious smile and sharp sense of fashion. Clark often coordinated his outfits to compliment whichever hat he chose to wear.
Sac High is where Clark met one of his closest friends, Kiahre Fuller. The two met through athletics – Fuller was a varsity baseball player at Sac High during the same time Clark played football. The two would remain friends up until the day Clark was killed.
“He laid his body out to get the ball,” Fuller said. He says football brought Clark “another family – and a purpose.”
Clark and Fuller would eventually get matching tattoos reading “Loyalty Makes 1 Family.”
Clark ended up leaving Sac High in his senior year. He would go on to earn his GED through an adult education program.
He applied to San Diego State University, looking to become a psychologist and stay close to his friends. However, he was never admitted and decided to attend Sacramento City College.
Clark took spring classes in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Here, he met his fiancée, Salena Manni. While attending college, Clark had four run-ins with the law, one of which led to jail time. These mistakes would eventually lead to his criminal record being used as a weapon by agitators online following his wrongful death.
One of Clark’s relatives by marriage, Sonia Lewis, said: “Yes, he got into some trouble. But what kid his age hasn’t? He paid his dues, and he was at a crossroads and was making a change in his life. I still can’t believe they killed him.”
Clark paid his debt to society and was released one month before his death in 2018. The young man converted from Christianity to Islam, began selling sneakers and applied for a full-time job at a Sysco food warehouse. Clark began splitting his time between Manni’s apartment, his mother’s house and his grandmother’s house.
Clark and his grandmother were extremely close. Clark began spending time at her house helping care for her disabled husband, Tommy Thompson. Relatives say Clark considered Thompson as a father figure.
Stevante Clark, Stephon’s older brother, reflected with sorrow. “I know there could have been another way.”
The two were so close, in fact, that Clark’s last words came in the form of a desperate plea moments before Sacramento police closed in on him and gunned him down. Clark began tapping on the back window of his grandmother’s home, trying to get Tommy Thompson to let him in.
“Poppa, Poppa! It’s me, Little Poppa. Let me in!” he said. Clark was known around the house as Little Poppa after he became a father.
“Tommy T, let me in!”
Officers responding to reports of vandalism in the area fired 20 rounds at Clark, striking him eight times until he would lie on the patio, completely motionless. A lone cell phone was found under Clark’s body, which officers say they believed was a gun. The officers were never charged.
After Clark’s death, Stevante Clark, his older brother, reflected with sorrow. “I know there could have been another way,” he told CNN Affiliate KOVR.
“He didn’t have to die.”
Stevante was right. His little brother didn’t have to die. He became the latest name in a long, awful trend, a club no one wants to be a part of: Black men extra-judicially killed by police.
When the world lost Stephon, the world lost a young man at a turning point in his life. The world lost a kid working his absolute hardest to provide a better life for his own. A man who was saving money to buy his grandmother a new china set and a CD player for her car.
But, most of all, the world lost a citizen. A human being just like you and me. There’s an increasing amount of people who tend to feel safer when young Black men who might’ve made mistakes in life, as Stephon did, get gunned down in the street.
Nobody on god’s green earth should’ve felt good about Stephon being killed.
What his death showed the world is this:
If you’re Black in America, police can and will kill you as soon as you slip up in any way.
As soon as you take out your cell phone in your own back yard, your name can turn into an officer-involved shooting report.
Stevante’s words immediately come to mind again. “Stephon wasn’t perfect, and neither are any of you.”
If more folks shared this sentiment and began looking at the injustice done to Black victims instead of the “wrongs” they may have committed, we might really be somewhere.
Emma Rosewood is an abolitionist reporter covering the carceral system living on stolen Nisenan land. Follow her on Twitter @olddressdevil.