‘Stephon Clark will never die’: Three-story-high mural honors his memory in Sacramento

Family members see Stephon Clark mural for first time

Brother Stevante Clark, grandmother Sequita Thompson and mother Sequette Clark see mural of Stephon Clark for the first time at Wide Open Walls Exhibit on June 20, 2019.
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Brother Stevante Clark, grandmother Sequita Thompson and mother Sequette Clark see mural of Stephon Clark for the first time at Wide Open Walls Exhibit on June 20, 2019.

More than a year has passed since Stephon Clark’s death. The Clark family honored his memory by visiting the nearly-complete mural of him at Wide Open Walls Festival exhibit in downtown Sacramento on Thursday.

Clark’s portrait now covers a wall three stories high and a block wide on Improv Alley, between Seventh and Eighth streets.

The artist A.J. Kute, 27, said he was inspired by the picture the media first released when the 22-year-old unarmed black man was shot and killed by police last year in his grandparents’ Meadowview backyard.

In the portrait, Clark is wearing the same sweat shirt and his head is slightly tilted to the right, as was typical for him, said his mother, Se’Quette Clark. The background of the downtown Sacramento skyline is based on pictures of protesters shutting down Interstate 5 and a Kings game in the aftermath of Clark’s death in March 18, 2018.

Stephon Clark, a father of two, was killed by two Sacramento police officers who suspected he had been breaking car windows. His death sparked protests nationwide, both on city streets and on social media.

This March, the shooting received renewed attention when Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert decided not to press charges against the officers.

The city of Sacramento and lawyers representing Clark’s family have reportedly reached a settlement in the $20 million lawsuit filed against the city for the shooting.

Se’Quette Clark and Stephon’s brother Stevante Clark say they are thankful to Kute for bringing his memory alive so vividly, and to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California for funding the project. Stevante Clark said he hopes the mural will bring the community together and keep his brother’s legacy alive.

“Stephon Clark will never die,” he said, “his name will never die, his legacy will live on generations after you and I.”

Stephon Clark’s, from left, brother Stevante Clark, grandmother Sequita Thompon, sister Cailyn Clark and mother Se’Quette Clark visit ACLU-funded mural by local artist A.J. Kute on June 20, 2019. The mural is located on Improv Alley, between 7th and 8th street, Meadowview, as part of the Wide Open Walls Mural Festival. Caroline Ghisolfi cghisolfi@sacbee.com

Thursday’s was the first visit to the mural for Stevante Clark, 8-year-old sister Cailyn Clark and their grandmother Sequita Thompson. Se’Quette Clark visited once on Monday and said she intends to come back frequently.

“This is something that brightens my day,” she said. “I can come see him, kiss him, hold him, hug his face.” She said many friends and family visit his headstone at the gravesite where Stephon’s pictures are displayed, but she prefers the mural. It helps her cope.

Stephon Clark’s mother Se’Quette visits her son’s mural for the first time on June 17, 2019. The mural is located on Improv Alley, between 7th and 8th street, Meadowview, as part of the Wide Open Walls Mural Festival. Courtesy of Se'Quette Clark

Thompson was excited to bring her granddaughter Cailyn to see the mural and remember her brother. Se’Quette Clark allowed Cailyn in front of a media camera for the first time for the occasion.

“She was the last one to kiss him and dance for him,” said Se’Quette Clark. “This is the first that we allow Cailyn to say hello to the public...because it’s something of beauty, something to remember.”

The mural was commissioned by the ACLU of Northern California through Wide Open Walls, with the Clark family’s permission, said ACLU Communications Strategist Daisy Vieyra in an email to The Bee.

“We wanted to honor Stephon Clark’s memory and reached out to the family to see if it was something they thought would be appropriate,” she said.

The ACLU began discussing the commission last year and Kute began painting in May, according to Vieryra. Kute said he has since been working incessantly around his full-time job to make sure the mural is something that the family can cherish.

The artist never got a chance to meet with the family, but shared his designs with the Clarks and discussed the mural once on the phone with Thompson. He tried to learn as much as he could about Stephon through one of his old friends, co-worker Ammar Shafiq.

“I don’t feel like necessarily I am the right person for the job”, said Kute, “but I’m looking forward to meeting them and just to give my condolences, if anything.”

After Stephon was killed, Kute said, he saved a picture of him from the newspapers. He taped it to the back of his desk and stared at it for months, while gathering images from media coverage of the event and protests.

The original design was supposed to cover only a garage front, with the design contained within the letters ZOE – Stephon Clark’s nickname – but a Wide Open Walls representative ensured permission to paint the entire three-story building side, said Kute.

Original sketch of Stephon Clark mural by A.J. Kute. The mural is currently located on Improv Alley, between 7th and 8th street, Meadowview, as part of the Wide Open Walls Mural Festival. Courtesy of the ACLU

When scaling the picture, Kute enlarged a tree that had previously been in the background. Between the branches, he painted the hashtag #saytheirnames, a slogan widely used by protesters. Dabs of red blood-like paint stain the trunk and leaves, where Kute included lyrics from Nina Simon’s rendition of the song “Strange Fruit”: “Blood on the leaves, blood on the roots.”

“We just wanted him to be remembered in a positive light,” said Kute. “I think he was taken too soon.”

Kute said the mural is at its final stages but still needs some retouching. He intends to add crows in the tree with collaborator Jimmy Kulmann, and will receive help from co-worker and friend Jorge Rodriguez to add definition to Stephon’s portrait and to the protestors’ profiles.

The family was thrilled and grateful when they finally saw the nearly finished artwork.

“It’s just the summary of him and what he stood for,” said Se’Quette Clark.

Kute painted Clark’s nickname “Zoe’” in capital letters across the three stories on the upper left. In the lower left, next to the portrait, he included a group of protesters raising their fists to honor and remember Clark. One of them holds a pink cellphone, like the one Clark was holding when he was spotted and killed by the police, recalled Thompson.

“I really like that part right there”, said Thompson, “to show the people that he was murdered for just holding a cellphone.”

The family especially appreciated the crown that Kute placed on Clark’s head. Born on Aug. 10, his astrological sign was Leo, and he referred to himself as “The King.”

“He is a king”, said Stevante Clark during a phone interview with The Bee. “The crown on his head is very fitting.”

Each member of the family expressed in different words how overwhelming it felt to stand for the first time in front of the mural of Stephon. But most of all, they said they felt honored and grateful to those who brought the project to life. Stephon’s brother, mother and grandmother said it is one of many initiatives to uplift and celebrate his name, and bring the community together to stand up for integrity, justice, accountability and transparency.

“It’s time and we will not stop, we will not settle, we will fight to the end for justice,” said Se’Quette Clark.

On the anniversary of Clark’s death in March, the family celebrated the Stephon Clark Legacy Weekend. On Saturday, they will hold an event at the Harambee Festival in Meadowview Park in his honor.

Stevante said he continues his efforts as committee adviser for Measure U, the recently enacted Sacramento sales tax, to commemorate his brother at the Martin Luther King Library in Meadowview. Thompson is president of a group called Bless Child Association raising funds to add purple commemorative signs for Clark at two corners – 29th Street and Ellwood Avenue, and 29th and Meadowview Road – near the scene of his shooting.

When the family gathered Thursday in front of the mural, they raised their fists to honor Clark and celebrate the recent advancement of Assembly Bill 392, which would limit the use of deadly force by police officers.

“I believe you can’t mention Sacramento without mentioning Stephon Alonso Clark,” said Stevante, “his name ... is the initials of SAC. That’s why we always say: ‘I am SAC.’”

This story was updated on June 23 to correct the location of the mural.

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Caroline Ghisolfi, from Stanford University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and health care. She grew up in Milan, Italy.