Say His Name: The Significance of Stephon Clark

By Sapelo Square

Geographer and activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism [1] as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” This definition describes a reality that Black people know well. A reality in which by virtue of who you are not — not white, and/or male, and/or wealthy and so on — life is precarious; it comes with more risk. A reality in which, to paraphrase the poet Amir Sulaiman, we find ourselves as dead people walking. This vulnerability to premature death comes in many forms — smokestacks in the ‘hood that lead to high rates of asthma, food deserts that lead to poor nutrition or inadequate medical care that leads to poor health outcomes — all of which contribute to an increased likelihood that you may die sooner than you would if you were not “different.”

stephon clarkThe most arresting forms of premature death that bring Black vulnerability into high definition — are those like the death of Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018.

The most arresting forms of premature death that bring Black vulnerability into high definition — are those like the death of Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018.

His death was premature because a young healthy person in the security of their own home is an unlikely candidate for death. Yet, as a young Black person, as a working class person and as a Muslim, his group-differentiated differences made him extremely vulnerable to death at the hands of the police by state-sanctioned violence.

Ismail Pic

Photo by Ismail Bilal

Stephon Clark was laid to rest about a week after his killing, but the significance of his death to the pressing issues of racism and police violence that Black people face in the United States remain. With his death and with those who preceded him, we know many are trying to process, seek answers and seek inspiration. As you do so, we offer the words of three Black Muslims which are directly and indirectly connected to Stephon Clark: Imam Zaid Shakir, Amir Sulaiman and Maimouna Yousseff.

We begin with remarks made by Imam Zaid Shakir of the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, California, at Clark’s funeral service. Imam Zaid includes a quote from Amir Sulaiman’s poem “Dead Man Walking,” which we also include here. Finally, we link to the soul-stirring song, “Say My Name” in which the hip hop artist Maimouna Yousseff sings, “If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman…please don’t forget about me, Say My Name.”

As Imam Zaid notes in his remarks, Brother Stephon joins the tragic pantheon of Black people killed by the police or citizen-vigilantes. However, we must not allow the story to end there; we must, as our sister Maimouna Yousseff, reminds us, #sayhisname, say all of their names, as a reminder, in prayer and in our continued struggle.

Imam Zaid Shakir’s Remarks

(If you care to watch his remarks they start at 1:06:52)

As salaamu alaykum,

Imam Zaid Shakir from the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, California.imamzaidbio

I am honored to be here with the family of Stephon Clark, with all of the clergy. We thank Reverend Scarbrough for opening the doors of his church to the community and to us. And we thank the family for being so patient. Just want to underscore what the Reverend Al Sharpton said that this is a national issue. Today, we are gathered to memorialize and subsequently bury Stephon Clark.

But yesterday it was Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, and Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Gary King, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner. Or. Or it was Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, Alesia Thomas, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, or 7-year-old Aiyana [Stanley-]Jones in Detroit, Michigan.

The community is rightfully pained.

Is rightfully angry.

Is rightfully frustrated.

To borrow from the poet, because we’ve “built our coffins much too often” and we’re tired of seeing our people die.

And it’s not just our people. Every year in this country, white folks are shot, brown folks are shot. Upwards to 1,000 people are shot by the police. That is a systemic problem, not a local problem. Not a Sacramento problem. It is a uniquely American problem!

In 71 years, 1 person in Ireland, in 71 years, was shot by the police…That’s a uniquely American problem. In 24 years, in the United Kingdom and Wales combined, 55 people, in 24 years, were shot by the police. Upwards to 1,000 in America, every year. That is an American problem. It is a systemic problem.

But it is also a problem of our hearts. [inaudible] diseased. Our hearts are diseased. And we have to cure our hearts. Cure our hearts so we recognize every one of us is our brother or our sister:

Black, Brown, White, Yellow, Red. If you have some polka dot people, they’re our brothers and sisters.

We are a human family!

And just as Stephon Clark, when he came together with our sister Salena [Manni] here, (pause) nations were brought together, religions were brought together — when those two beautiful individuals came together.

And that’s a lesson for us: that we can put aside all of this racial animosity. We can put aside the religious bigotry and prejudice and sectarianism. We can put aside our differences to come together as a human family to ensure that justice is done for Stephon Clark! That justice is done for all of those people we listed — and we can be here all day listing — That justice was done for them.

But it can only be done when each and every one of us affirms

That I am my brother’s keeper!

That I am my sister’s keeper!

That I do have a responsibility to all of my brothers and sisters who are God’s children

And we say that figuratively. My Muslims brothers might get me, saying God had children. I am speaking figuratively, my brother.

So we are going to take the body outside. Members of the Muslim community and others are welcome to fellowship with us [or] to watch. We are going to line up and say the funeral prayer for him.

We pray that he is at peace — he is at peace.

And we pray that, as the Reverend Sharpton said, we fulfill our collective responsibility to his wife, and his children, to his mother and grandmother, [and] to his siblings. That we can demonstrate that out of the most tragic and difficult situations, great good can come.

We are going to go outside now

Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

Amir Sulaiman’s “Dead Man Walking”

Maimouna Youssef Say My Name


Quran Khatm for Stephon Clark. Let us continue to remember and pray for our deceased Brother. From Allah we come, and to Him we shall return. Sign-up


[1] Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Ruth Wilson Gilmo, p. 28

Share Post
No comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.