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|SACRAMENTO — Since Stevante Clark’s younger brother Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento Police officers in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, his life has been through a ferris wheel of changes.|
While he mourned his sibling’s death during the last nine months, his grief indirectly played out in front of the media. Some of his outbursts were not viewed positively, though many people were not aware that he is an intelligent and compassionate individual. His family is proud of those qualities. Albeit, Stevante has struggled with the public’s perception of him.
Despite it all, Stevante has been a source of comfort and energy for his family, and he is laser-focused on his mission: “I want my brother’s name to live forever,” he says.
On the day of Sunday, March 18, 2018, close to midnight, Stevante Clark was working as a security guard near Arden Fair Mall when he received a text message that read, “Popa is dead.” The spelling caught him off guard and he didn’t know what to think of it. He shrugged it off as if it was someone he did not know.
“I was like, ‘Who wrote this?’” Clark told The OBSERVER recently in front of his grandmother’s home in the Meadowview neighborhood in South Sacramento.
He sat there until he realized that the person who sent it was his six-year-old sister, Cailyn, and she could be referring to “Lil Poppa,” the nickname given to Stephon Clark by the family.
“It was my little sister. That’s all the text said; Popa,” he said. “All types of emotions were running through my head.”
Stephon Clark, 22, was lying face down in the backyard of his gran mother’s house on 29th Street when Stevante arrived.
In the darkness of night, Clark had been shot several times by two Sacramento Police officers, after a 911 call came in reporting that someone was breaking windows of cars in the neighborhood. The police suspected that Clark, a former Sacramento Charter High School student, was the culprit.
It was later revealed that all Clark had was a cell phone. The killing sparked local and nationwide protests.
Months later, Stevante is sitting in front of his grandmother’s front yard discussing several issues concerning his little brother. When the discussion moved to the backyard, where a family autopsy revealed he was hit by eight bullets, six in the back, Stevante’s tone softened. Then, he barely said a word.
“I hardly ever come back here,” Clark said before silence closed his lips.
Before heading back toward the front yard of the house Stevante Clark made a gesture pointing a finger to an area in the backyard that was a few steps from the back door. He still didn’t say a word, though it was clear what he wanted to express.
Inscribed in concrete on the walkway that leads to the north side of the house, was the name, “Stephon Clark.” Stevante Clark quickly turned around and walked away.
“It’s now more about me than it is him,” Clark said of his little brother when he returned to the front yard, openly speaking again. “I would’ve taken the bullets for him. I’m my brother’s keeper. It’s supposed to be that way. He has kids. I don’t have kids.”
When the world was introduced to Stevante Clark, he was in a different state of mind compared to how he is today. Following his brother’s traumatic death, his emotional behavior has been notable. Stevante was doing what any person does, grieve.
Everyone reacts to death differently. So did Clark.
His brother’s death turned his life into a train-wreck, reality television show. He didn’t ask for it, but Clark was consequentially the star, co-star, director and producer. The media did its part of providing the microphones and cameras.
Retired NBA player and Sacramento native Matt Barnes showed his support for the Clark family by hosting a rally at Cesar Chavez Park after the shooting. Barnes assessed the situation with diplomacy.
“Everybody thinks Stephon’s brother is crazy or he has a mental illness or something because the way he has been acting out,” Barnes said. “This is how he grieves. He’s in a lot of pain and this is how he reacts to it.”
On March 23, at the corner of Florin Road and 29th Street, Black Lives Matter Sacramento and other social justice activists from around the area staged a protest that went on for hours. Stevante, hanging out the back seat of an SUV, addressed protestors upset about Stephon’s death. His message was one of respect.
“I want to thank everyone and Black Lives Matter (Sacramento) for supporting my family,” Clark said to the large crowd. “That was wrong what they did to my family. But all y’all in gangs gotta stop gangbanging. We need help in these streets.”
Four days later, Clark attended the Sacramento City Council meeting at City Hall for the first time ever. When he arrived, he was escorted to a room facing the council chambers. All the activities in the gallery could be viewed through a large glass. The council chamber was completely filled to the brim with people who there to voice their concerns about the conduct of the Sacramento Police Department.
Stevante — wearing black pants, a black hoodie with an image of “Lil Poppa” on the front of it, black shades, white headphones around his neck, and that familiar beige, black, red polka dots, and white checkered scarf — was uncomfortable in the room.
Clark said he didn’t “like the energy in the room” and exited back through the door where, on the other side, he was met in the face with news cameras that were filming his every move. Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr was speaking at the dais when Clark entered through the middle doors in the back of the gallery, ranting loudly, “Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark.”
As he waltzed down the runway leading to the dais where Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other city officials were seated, Clark jumped up on the dais, faced the gallery, shouting his brother’s name. At this point and time, many attendees at the meeting joined the chorus. Steinberg, seated somber and stoically, watched the whole situation turn to chaos. It was the first time Steinberg and Clark had ever faced one another.
“I had never been in City Hall in my life and I didn’t know who the mayor was,” Clark said.
What was never revealed was the interaction between Clark, Steinberg and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn. As Hahn watched everything unfold, Clark said he saw Chief Hahn make a sudden move as if he were going to have him removed from the dais. Steinberg motioned to have Hahn be still. Hahn stood down.
“The mayor waved him off. The mayor did that. When the mayor did that, I said, ‘O.K., I’m going to test your gangster now.”
Clark turned around to Mayor Steinberg and said some unpleasant things that should not be repeated. One thing is for sure, Mayor Steinberg took it like a professional.
Looking back, Clark realizes he made a major mistake. It wasn’t the last one, either.
“That is one of two times in my life that I ever regretted anything,” Clark said.
The day after the debacle at Sacramento City Hall, which was coupled with a protest that shut down a Sacramento Kings game at Golden 1 Center, Clark appeared on CNN for a segment with host Don Lemon.
Clark had just left a viewing for his dead brother and his time there with his family was not coherent. Clark said the media’s presence at the viewing boiled the pot.
“Basically, I had a spasm in front of the cameras; a mental breakdown after the wake,” Clark said. “I was telling everyone not to come here to (expletive) exploit my family. And then, I have to do an interview with Don Lemon.”
Before going to the studio for the interview, Clark had come across a bell at his previous destination. He was already upset because the vehicle to take him to the studio was extremely late. When Clark walked on the studio set, he had the bell with him.
When he appeared on camera, Clark’s disappointment was literally written all over his face and his mental state was deteriorating right in front of CNN’s audience. Shown from the chest up, Clark was wearing a white t-shirt with the hashtag word “#Stephon Clark” written on the front. Once again, he was also wearing the scarf on his head.
Lemon knew Clark was at the wake, a viewing of the body and time for mourners to offer their condolences. Lemon shared his sympathy for the family before asking Clark, “How are you and your family holding up?”
Clark rung the bell he had, paused for about two seconds, and then stared down the camera as if he and Lemon were in the same room.
“What does that mean?” Lemon asked.
“Next question, Clark responded.
From there, Clark was verbally all over the place with his comments to the point that Lemon shut the interview down in less than three
minutes. Social media went berserk after the segment aired. Clark has an explanation for it all.
“I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. But I knew he wanted to say something for ratings,” Clark said. “When he says, ‘What does that mean?’ I’m like you know what it means. People have to understand. My family couldn’t eat, we hadn’t slept, I had seven cell phones, and cameras were following us around everywhere. It was crazy. It was stressful … I could only take so much.”
As he did after the City Hall episode, Clark is apologetic about his conduct during the CNN interview. He also came to the realization that it was his family and family alone he had to rely on.
The only way Stephon Clark’s name would be remembered exclusively depends on Lil Poppa’s family, Clark said.
“The CNN interview was probably the most dehumanizing feelings I guess I’ve felt because afterwards I didn’t feel human anymore,” Clark said.
“I felt total loss of self and I felt like I was just a puppet. It was about ratings, money, and not about making Stephon’s name to live for generations. I realized nobody was going to fight for Stephon as I do.”
Clark was the focal point of more flare-ups, but he has simmered down considerably since he was arrested and jailed for allegedly threatening a roommate during a 911 call.
“Those few days in jail was like being in a psych ward,” Clark said. “They put me in part of the jail with the worst of the worst.”
Since Stephon Clark died in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, Stevante has been active in the community trying to get justice for his younger brother. The pain lingers on for him and his family.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, whose office Stevante Clark will vie for in 2020, was respectful in the way the young man was conducting himself those first few months after Stephon’s death.
It was “the most raw expression of emotion,” Steinberg said.
Clark has been to many protests for his brother and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Stevante was standing with the crowd in front of the Sacramento County Main Jail when a vigil was held for Marshall Miles last month.
The two Sacramento police officers who killed Clark — Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet — are awaiting whether they will face charges by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office led by Anne Marie Schubert.
At the request of Chief Hahn, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office is also investigating the shooting.
Stevante Clark, who calls entertainer James Brown, writer James Baldwin, and social activist Malcom X his heroes, hopes one day a recreational and library could be built with the name “Stephon’s House.”
Until that happens, Clark and his family wait for a resolution.
“Still, to this day, I feel like no one has been held accountable,” Stevante Clark said. “It’s messed up. It sucks. We want justice. But my family … we’re staying together. We’re prayed up. Hopefully, something good will come out of it, and soon.”
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer