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Hundreds Turn Out For Stephon Clark's Funeral In Sacramento

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

People in the capitol of the state, Sacramento, hundreds of them, turned out for the funeral of Stephon Clark yesterday. The 22-year-old father of two was killed by police earlier this month. The officers who shot Clark say they thought his cellphone was a gun, and they opened fire as he stood in his grandmother's backyard. Activists say this is part of a nationwide pattern of police using excessive force against African-Americans. Les Simmons is a pastor with the South Sacramento Christian Center. That's located just a few miles from where Clark was shot. And he joins me this morning. Pastor, thanks for taking the time.

LES SIMMONS: Yeah, thank you so much.

GREENE: I know you were at the funeral yesterday. Can you just tell me what thoughts were crossing your mind as you were there?

SIMMONS: It was definitely a really tough space for our community to process, even though, in our culture, we do take these moments and celebrate the life of a loved one when they transition. But in this case, in Stephon - you know, he was - his life ended early at the age of 22. And yesterday was definitely a moment where thousands gathered to honor him while mourning him as well.

GREENE: What are you hearing from your community right now? Are - is there a voice or several voices, a message that stands out?

SIMMONS: Yeah, I am. I'm hearing that enough is enough. Our community is shouting for justice, accountability and the firing of the officers. They're shouting to raise awareness of why our communities are in the situations that they are. You hear we feel trapped. We feel like our backs are against the wall, and we don't have opportunities. We're hunted down by those that are sworn to protect us.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you - in terms of finding a reason for why this happened, the mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, was on our air. And he said, I don't believe our police force in Sacramento is racist, but that's a very different question from whether implicit racism pervades every aspect of our community life. What - how do you interpret that? And do you agree that that is the root of the problem?

SIMMONS: No, I think you said it right where it's supposed to be said. Implicit bias - I think there has to be an acceptance and an acknowledgement that there are biases in police departments, as well as other systems. There's cultural competency that has to be acknowledged. There's historical trauma that law enforcement has caused to the black community that also has to be acknowledged. And I think what's going to be needed to get us to a place to where we can see each other - it's going to require us to listen past our comfort zone to really feel what people are saying, to really see what they're saying and then to allow that emotion that they're hearing to drive all of us to a place of solution.

GREENE: Pastor, how are you approaching some of these conversations you're having one-on-one with people personally? What are you saying?

SIMMONS: Some of these conversations happen in one-on-one interactions. Some of them happen in group facilitations that lead to a shared kind of story of, like, I had the same experience. And once you start to have one, then you realize you're having 10 conversations, and all of us have the same story. I think you begin to see a trend.

And then you begin to understand it's not only one of us, it's 10 of us. Then you begin to understand it's not just 10 of us is, it's - all of us are having the same story. And I think you can probably go from urban communities throughout the state, throughout the nation and find that same kind of shared struggle - story - within the black community.

GREENE: You said that your community right now is demanding justice. You know that the attorney general of California said that he's going to provide independent oversight of the investigation into this shooting. Are you satisfied that that is an effort towards justice?

SIMMONS: Well, we won't be satisfied until justice happens, till these officers are held accountable, till the family is supported. I think we want to trust the attorney general. But justice will have to be given. Stephon Clark's life was taken, and this community is at a place of deep trauma. And we don't want his life to be in vain.

GREENE: Les Simmons is a pastor with the South Sacramento Christian Center. Thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

SIMMONS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.