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Stephon Clark shooting launches songs and paintings. ‘Something I had to do,’ artist says

Andre Young, 25, leads a march during a Day of Action protest in downtown Sacramento hosted by Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Anti Police-Terror Project in Sacramento on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. They are seeking justice for Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother's backyard.
Andre Young, 25, leads a march during a Day of Action protest in downtown Sacramento hosted by Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Anti Police-Terror Project in Sacramento on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. They are seeking justice for Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother's backyard. rbyer@sacbee.com

Thanks to the work of artists – local and national – Stephon Clark will live on through art.

Within hours of learning about the police shooting death of Clark, Maryland artist Demont Pinder used his tablet computer to create a stylized image of a smiling Clark. The handsome figure is surrounded by words and phrases.

"Warning – Cellphone in use" is shown as a sign on a fence in the backyard where he was shot, while the phrase "I'm a husband and father of two" is also on the backdrop.

Closer to home, several Sacramento musicians, painters and graphic artists are immortalizing the March 18 fatal police shooting. The incident became a national controversy after police found Clark, 22, with only a cellphone after two officers shot him dead in his grandmother's backyard.

Arts activist Andru Defeye arrived at a Wednesday protest with a freshly painted image of Clark by Sacramento artist Shaun Burner and 6-foot-tall banner with an image created by Xico González.

Though Defeye arrived late, the two striking images of Clark immediately took their place at the front of the march, where a dozen cameras clicked away.

"I created this poster as a way to bring to light the killing of Stephon Clark at the hands of Sacramento Police Department officers," said González, an artist and organizer with the Sol Collective. He said creating and sharing the image is in keeping with the group's activist mission.

Before Wednesday's protest started in earnest, some of the music playing from a box-sized speaker directly referenced Clark.

"I felt like it was something I had to do," said The Philharmonik, an up-and-coming Sacramento hip-hop musician. "As an artist, it's important to shed light on things like injustice."

He said the artist's job is to speak to the individual situation while telling a universal story.

"The universal and the personal are one and the same," said The Philharmonik.

His song "20 Rounds" is an ode to Stephon Clark, whom officers fired at 20 times, The Philharmonik said. It begins with a live recording of people chanting Clark's name and ends with the sound of 20 gunshots. The Philharmonik said proceeds from the song will benefit Clark's children.

The chorus speaks to a community in fear of the police:

“20 rounds, 20 shots shot him dead/20 rounds, to kill an innocent man/20 rounds, how can we not be afraid/20 rounds, same s---, different day."

Another song by a trio of artists, "I Am Stephon," has strong words for the Sacramento Police Department. The video uploaded March 23 – just five days after the shooting – features artists performing the song at protests on the I-5 freeway, outside Golden 1 Center when the arena shut its doors and through the streets of Sacramento.

The video, which now has 40,000 views, includes news footage and police body camera video. Here is one section performed by Bornstunna 3G:

"I am Stephon Clark/Shoot me in my back in the dark/You don't give a chance before you spark."

Clark is also being remembered through T-shirts. At least three online stores include #StephonClark merchandise, and one uses the hashtag with six bullet holes under his name.

It is similar to a shirt that Sacramento artist Danny Scheible created the day a private autopsy was released showing Clark was shot six times in the back out of eight rounds that struck him. Scheible's memorable shirt had six red dots on the back in the locations shown on an autopsy drawing.

It's natural for artists to try to interpret this tragedy, said Lial Jones, curator at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.

"Our community is hurting," Jones said. "Artists respond to the hurt."

"A lot of these art collectives, we are doing everything we can to amplify the voice of the community, not to speak for the community, but to provide a platform and a lot of ways for the community to express themselves," said Defeye, a spokesman for Sol Collective.

Turning tragedy into art is nothing new for Pinder. From rapper Notorious B.I.G. to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old fatally shot in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, Pinder tries to capture each subject's spirit in his visual art. He considers himself a reporter/historian, he said.

"Try to use my gift to try to spread the message in a positive way," Pinder said in a phone interview.

He said he tries not to point fingers and knows the job police do is difficult, but said he finds himself painting too many similar situations in which unarmed black men are shot and killed by the police. He's done more than 100 of them.

Pinder said his image of Clark quickly struck a nerve. Soon after sharing it on Instagram, Clark's brother, Stevante Clark, called about using the image.

When the funeral approached, Pinder decided to fly out. While in Sacramento, he did two paintings of Clark, one of which was done at the funeral. He later took a picture with the Rev. Al Sharpton and that painting.

"It’s sad to be doing these pictures and capturing these moments," Pinder said. "I can’t say I’m used to it. I just feel like it’s a duty now."

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