Sacramento simmers over police killing of unarmed man

Sacramento (AFP) - Huge crowds are expected to join an outpouring of grief and rage Thursday at the funeral of an unarmed black man shot dead by police in California's capital Sacramento.

The service, where civil rights activist Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy, has been moved to a bigger venue to accommodate "a large volume of people wanting to pay their last respects," his spokesman said.

Body camera and surveillance helicopter footage released last week showed police chasing and then firing 20 rounds at 22-year-old Stephon Clark, fearing that he was carrying a weapon. He was actually holding an iPhone.

An uproar following the March 18 incident, erupting into days of protest outside the state Capitol building and continuing into the streets of downtown, with marchers blocking traffic and clashing with police in riot gear.

Rachel Noerdlinger, Sharpton's spokeswoman, said the public service would take place at 11:00 am (1800 GMT) at the Bayside Boss Church in southern Sacramento.

The civil rights activist will hold a news conference, she added, with the Clarks' lawyer, renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who negotiated settlements for the family of Trayvon Martin.

The incident was triggered by an emergency 911 phone call late on March 18 stating that a man was smashing car windows in the neighborhood.

Clark appeared to fit the suspect's profile, and police chased after him, backed by a helicopter equipped with infrared cameras.

- Police abuses -

The helicopter and body camera footage showed Clark running through the neighborhood before entering the backyard of his grandparents' home, where he lived.

The officers burst into the yard with their weapons drawn and confront the father-of-two before opening fire, each shot appearing as a flash on the helicopter's infrared footage.

The officers were put on leave, but the incident has revived a recurring debate over police abuses against African Americans, who account for an overwhelming share of the suspects killed by police.

Protesters immediately took to the streets, shutting both sides of a major freeway and stopping thousands of Sacramento Kings fans from entering the Golden 1 Center for a basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Hundreds of demonstrators headed to the arena again Tuesday as police called for calm and announced a state justice department probe into Clark's death.

Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive vowed after the game against the Dallas Mavericks that the team would help "prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again."

Meanwhile, dozens of Black Lives Matter members gathered at Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's office to demand charges against the two officers who fired at Clark.

At the same time, a meeting of the city council dissolved into chaos, prompting members to leave the dais accompanied by police, as civic leaders called for restraint from crowds flooding into City Hall.

- 'Endemic racism' -

Members of the public testified for several hours, according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, calling out "endemic racism" among police and decades of inertia from public officials.

"This city is killing us. And we demand economic equity and justice," said Malaki Seku-Amen, founder of the California Urban Partnership, according to the Bee.

Police clashed with protesters outside the chambers and a man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer.

Clark's brother, Stevante Clark, suddenly burst into the chambers chanting his brother's name, captured in video footage that was widely shared on social media.

Sporting a shirt displaying his brother's image, he jumped onto the dias and cursed at the mayor, Darrell Steinberg, who called a recess. Clark was ushered out of the room by friends.

Before leaving, he is seen in the video footage remonstrating about gang violence, high rent and poverty, telling the meeting: "The mayor and the city of Sacramento has failed all of you."

Crump attended the meeting with Sequita Thompson, Clark's grandmother, who wiped away tears as she chanted: "Justice. I want justice for my baby."

"We will stand up for Stephon, we will speak up for Stephon and we will fight for Stephon until we get justice for Stephon," Crump said.

The Clark family is considering whether to sue police over the killing, but even an out-of-court settlement is expected to take months to reach.