Shoving journalists to the ground. Detaining members of the clergy and the press – hands cuffed behind their backs – without cause. Arresting citizens for exercising their right to peaceful protest.
We expect such things in authoritarian countries, but not here in our hometown. Not in Sacramento.
This was the scene of violation perpetrated by the Sacramento Police Department against citizens, clergy members and journalists during a protest march on Monday night. We watched on live feeds as 85 people were detained during the march through one of Sacramento’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Last year’s protests resulted in only five arrests.
Of course, last year’s protests didn’t march through East Sacramento. On Monday police pursued a very different strategy. They launched a shocking attack on the First Amendment.
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After they “kettled” marchers on a highway overpass where they could no longer leave, police began arresting them for failure to disperse. They detained Pastor Shane Harris and Pastor Les Simmons, restraining their hands behind their backs in plastic zip ties.
They did the same to Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler, who was handcuffed and led away as Bee reporter Sam Stanton shouted that Kasler was on assignment.
A police officer with a baton shoved Bee photographer Hector Amezcua to the ground, damaging the equipment he was using to do a live broadcast of the march. All of this took place as news cameras rolled and livestreams broadcast the march to the world.
If anyone needed a reminder of the unjust aggression and poor judgment that some allege have resulted in tragedies like the killing of Stephon Clark, Sacramento police put their ugly side on full display Monday night. They announced to marchers that “those who remain could suffer serious injury,” according to Ezra David Romero of Capital Public Radio.
This was already going to be a tough and emotional week for the Sacramento community. District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision to file no charges against the police officers who killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark – unarmed in his grandparents’ backyard – reopened deep wounds. Sacramento police found a way to pour salt in them.
Police department spokesman Vance Chandler told reporters the arrests took place because marchers had failed to follow 10 orders to disperse over the course of two hours. He alleged that up to five cars had been vandalized.
If the vandalism did occur, it’s unacceptable. But it does not equate to the arrest and detainment 85 people, including peaceful protestors, members of the clergy and working journalists.
This out-of-proportion reaction toward marchers on Monday night provided a poignant reminder of why they were marching in the first place. Stephon Clark was suspected of breaking car windows when police chased him down and shot him to death.
“It’s what black and brown men go through in the country every day,” said Rev. Harris, after being released from custody.
“I’m very disappointed that the protest ended the way it did,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg in a statement. “I have many questions about what caused the order to disperse and the subsequent arrests. I will withhold further comment until I get answers to these crucial questions tonight or tomorrow morning.”
“No matter the reason an order to disperse was given, no member of the press should be detained for doing their job,” he added.
In the days ahead, the Sacramento Police Department will have to answer many questions about its shocking behavior toward peaceful marchers on our streets. Chief Daniel Hahn owes our community a full explanation. He also must guarantee that the police department will refrain from violating the constitutional rights of our community members in future marches – no matter where they take place.
The scene: dozens of peaceful marchers on a bridge during the week when we mark the 54th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama, reminds us of the long road to this moment. Police brutality failed to stop the march of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. And police brutality today cannot stop a movement dedicated to the eradication of police brutality itself.
The Sacramento police department’s behavior on Monday night demonstrates it is time to change law regarding when police can use deadly force against unarmed or non-violent citizens. The time for reform is now. It’s time to march on the State Capitol to demand the passage of Assembly Bill 392, which would limit the circumstances under which law enforcement officers can use deadly force.