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Pathologist’s finding that six bullets entered unarmed black man’s body from behind helps fuel latest demonstrations
The family of Stephon Clark joined hundreds of people at a peaceful rally on Saturday to renew calls for police reform nearly two weeks after the 22-year-old, unarmed black man was killed by Sacramento officers.
Clark’s fiancee, Salena Manni, stood on stage with his two young sons, grandmother and uncle for the gathering organized by Sacramento native and former NBA player Matt Barnes, who pledged to create a scholarship fund for the children of black men killed by police.
Curtis Gordon, Clark’s uncle, recalled seeing his nephew hours earlier, adding: “All he wanted to do was go see his sons again, and unfortunately he can’t. So remember that, while we mourn, while we shout, while we cry because it ain’t just our pain, it’s their pain.”
Barnes amplified calls for charges against the two officers in question, who are on administrative leave. “It’s more than color. It comes down to right and wrong,” he said. “You’re trying to tell me I can kill someone and get a paid vacation?”
The demonstration drew between 200 and 300 people to a downtown park.
The night before, several hundred protesters marched through downtown streets for nearly four hours, with Black Lives Matter Sacramento leaders defusing tensions on several occasions to keep the march peaceful.
Friday’s protests – the fourth evening of demonstrations in a row – began after the release of a private autopsy that contradicted the official account of the police shooting.
On the night of 18 March, Clark was standing in his grandmother’s back yard holding only his iPhone when officers, who did not announce they were police, shouted at him to reveal his hands then fired before he could respond.
A forensic pathologist, Dr Bennet Omalu, said in a news conference that Clark was shot eight times, six of the bullets entering his body from behind.
“The proposition that has been presented that … he was facing the officers is inconsistent with the prevailing forensic evidence,” said Omalu, who is well known for his role in the discovery of brain injuries in NFL players.
One demonstrator, Latarria McCain, said later: “His back was turned, he didn’t get a chance.”
A day after the shooting, police said the officers who shot Clark “saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands”.
Several Kings players joined calls for racial justice at a community meeting on Friday night. The team has been supportive, despite the fact that demonstrations have cost it millions in revenue. The team’s owner, Vivek Ranadivé, has produced a TV spot about police violence, established an education fund for Clark’s children and entered partnerships with Black Lives Matter and Build Black Coalition.
Sacramento police responded to Omalu’s findings with a brief statement that said the department had not received an official autopsy report from the coroner’s office. The coroner’s investigation was independent from the police and the state justice department, the statement said.
The department has had to walk back a number of statements on the shooting, including an erroneous claim that Clark was found with a “tool bar”. Police were investigating car vandalization when the shooting occurred.
Police video does not clearly capture all that happened after Clark ran into his grandmother’s back yard. He initially moved toward the officers, who were peeking out from a corner of the house, but it was not clear if he was facing them or if he knew they were there when they opened fire, after shouting “gun, gun, gun”.
After 20 shots, officers called to Clark, apparently believing he might be alive and armed. No gun was found.
“When a young man who is 22 is shot down in his grandma’s back yard, which is supposed to be a safe place, I don’t know,” said Nikki Whitfield, an attendee at the community meeting on Friday. “What’s beyond a crisis?”
At the meeting, several hundred members of the black community discussed police brutality, calling out the names of black people killed by law enforcement.