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A frustrated congregation mourns ‘a second death of Stephon Clark’

No photos of Stephon Clark adorned the walls of South Sacramento Christian Center on Sunday morning, and his name may not have come up as often as it did in sermons immediately following his death.

The topic of pastors’ sermons about inequality and healing, though, were clear.

Visiting pastor Ben McBride decried Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s announcement Saturday that she would not pursue charges against police officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who shot Clark in his grandmother’s Meadowview backyard after a chase last March. The officers believed Clark, 22, was pointing a gun at them; the item in his hand was later found to be a cell phone.

McBride’s Sunday sermon didn’t express shock, but frustration at what many in the room of about 200 people, most of them African American, saw as an inevitable sidestep of justice for Clark’s death.

Pausing frequently to dab beads of sweat from his temples, McBride delivered a 45-minute sermon emphasizing calls for unity and grievances against oppressive powers. One song alluded to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a black man fatally choked by New York City police while being detained for selling single cigarettes on the sidewalk.

“I hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe’/now I’m in the struggle, I can’t leave,” the congregation sang along with McBride. “We’re calling out the violence of the racist police/we ain’t going to stop until the people are free.”

People such as Schubert, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn had made clear that people like Clark weren’t welcome in their vision of Sacramento, McBride said to calls of “amen!” and “OK!” from the congregation. He specifically derided Hahn, an Oak Park native and the city’s first black police chief.

“We’re living in a time where being seen as human in our cities, in our counties, in our state, in our world is a challenging dynamic,” McBride said. “If Stephon Clark belonged to Chief Hahn’s Sacramento ­– a brother from this community – he’d be demonstrating leadership that suggests black bodies belong, even when that disagrees with the institutions that exist.”

Clark was raised Christian before converting to Islam in his late teens, and grew up attending Calvary Christian Center in north Sacramento.

Pastor Les Simmons echoed McBride in calling Schubert’s report, in which she detailed Clark’s alleged domestic abuse and suicidal thoughts leading up to his shooting, a character assassination –“a second death of Stephon Clark.”

Still, Simmons struck a more measured tone than McBride. He promoted youth healing events scheduled for this month and next, and asked the congregation to be as compassionate as Jesus at the last supper, sitting with someone he knew had sold him out.

“We’re going to sit at tables, and sometimes the person we sit at the table with might be the one who betrayed us,” Simmons said. “But we need to build a table big enough for them.”

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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