Sacramento’s sheriff lets racists off the leash
reports from Sacramento on the feeble, failed attempt by Sheriff Scott Jones to mobilize pro-cop protesters against anti-police violence activists.
SACRAMENTO IS a city where the ubiquitous “Say his name” chant requires clarification: Which name? Or names? In which order? Stephon Clark. Brandon Smith. Joseph Mann. Dazion Flenaugh. Adriene Ludd. Mikel McIntyre. Ryan Ellis. To name a few.
Between the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, the grim reality is that it has become routine for young Black men to be killed by police under scandalous circumstances every few months in Sacramento County.
On September 6, 19-year-old Darrell Richards became the latest victim. He was killed by a Sacramento Police SWAT team in a Curtis Park backyard.
Police say he had a pellet gun that resembled a real gun and that he pointed it at them. But at least one of the officers who killed Richards “inadvertently” turned off his body camera before gunning him down, and no footage of Richards pointing the pellet gun apparently exists.
The lies and cover-ups surrounding these cases and the fight-back against them have similarly become a constant feature of the local political landscape. Seeking answers and accountability from Sheriff Scott Jones or District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert has been a nightmare for the families and loved ones of the victims of police violence.
So it seems only reasonable, right and necessary that the protest of racist police violence has become a part of the fabric of Sacramento as well.
But when Sacramento Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Stasyuk was killed in a gun battle in Rancho Cordova on September 17, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones saw it as an opportunity to attack Black Lives Matter Sacramento (BLMS) and the coalition of protesters who have long been a thorn in his side for demanding police accountability.
At the press conference announcing Stasyuk’s death, broadcast throughout the region, a sneering Jones said:
I mean, we have a planned protest tomorrow at a statewide law enforcement conference down in Sacramento. I know people have this overwhelming urge to do what they can and not knowing what to do — one of the things you can do is go down there. Go down to the convention center...and show your support for law enforcement while they continue to protest law enforcement.
JONES WAS referring to the BLMS-led protest of the California Peace Officers Association’s “Copswest 2018 Training and Exposition,” which was taking place the next day at the Sacramento Convention Center.
The expo brought hundreds of cops from around the country to Sacramento and included training sessions, vendors of police weaponry and a cop barbeque scheduled for six months to the day after the Sacramento police killing of Stephon Clark.
Not surprisingly, immediately after Jones’ call to action, the threats came pouring in to BLMS over social media, including threats that the protesters would be run over with vehicles the next day.
To fully understand how inflammatory and dangerous Jones’ call to arms was, one should bear in mind that Sacramento is the home city of the Golden State Skinheads, and features large and belligerent chapters of the far-right Proud Boys and Identity Evropa hate groups.
The so-called “Back the Blue” campaign was led by members of the same Traditionalist Worker Party that participated in a neo-Nazi rampage at the Capitol building in 2016, where leftist counterprotesters were stabbed. The California Highway Patrol responded to that attack by not only physically protecting the fascists at the Capitol, but then later protecting them legally and working with them to try to prosecute anti-fascist activists.
Jones’ call also has to be understood in the context of his own personal simmering disdain for BLMS.
Last summer, when the chapter issued a demand letter for release of information related to the deaths of Mikel McIntyre and Ryan Ellis at the hands of the Sheriff’s Department, Jones responded to chapter founder Tanya Faison, writing in part “none of your demands will be forthcoming...
“[T]here are far more responsible, effective voices for the African American community here in Sacramento than you, Ms. Faison; in fact there is nothing local law enforcement can ever do that will earn your approval.”
FOLLOWING JONES’ inflammatory remarks on September 17, activists across Sacramento scrambled — with many calling in to work or skipping school — to support a demonstration large enough to prevent vigilantes inspired by Jones from inflicting the violence promised over social media.
Early in the day, pro-cop counterprotesters were aggressive and belligerent, screaming at, shoving and challenging anti-racist protesters.
But all of that changed and they retreated into a riot cop-protected space off of the street when it became clear that the anti-racist coalition had mobilized by far the larger, better organized and more capable demonstration.
The BLMS-led coalition was able to block J Street (the busiest road through downtown) for hours — despite mounted police attempting to push the group out of the street with their horses — and filled the street with prop coffins representing victims of police killings.
A group of local clergy locked arms and bowed their heads, standing face-to-face with a massive line of riot police as the group staged a die-in, with participants climbing into the coffins.
Sacramento police shortly thereafter declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly, announcing that anyone who remained would be subject to arrest and face serious injury from tear gas, projectiles and Tasers. The police warnings were flatly ignored, with protesters shouting “We are the people!” as the threats were issued three times.
Numerous protesters remained in the street and in the coffins when police made the announcement again, saying that in five minutes, police would take back the street and arrest anyone in it. National Lawyers Guild legal observers took down the names and dates of birth of those in the coffins in anticipation of mass arrests.
But just as the clock ran down on the five-minute window, BLMS’s Tanya Faison picked up a bullhorn. “Let’s do something a little different,” she told the crowd. “Let’s march.”
The group at J and 13th Streets immediately mobilized, climbing to their feet and collecting the coffins before the police moved in. Riot cops followed the march, trampling over the remaining coffins but did not make arrests.
The march then wound through downtown Sacramento, resulting in preemptive shutdowns of City Hall, the County Jail, the Federal Courthouse and the District Attorney’s Office before disbanding peacefully.
IT’S ESSENTIAL to acknowledge that it was not the Sacramento police, nor the sheriffs’ deputies, nor the mayor, but Black community organizers who were able to prevent the outbreak of violence throughout the day, through coordination, numbers and discipline, in the face of the volatile and dangerous situation intentionally created by Sheriff Jones.
Jones is ostensibly one of the most politically powerful men in Sacramento. He has a $400 million budget, hundreds of deputies and five helicopters at his command. He has a massive platform to launch any statement he makes. And in May, he gladly accepted an invitation to the White House to meet with Donald Trump to discuss their shared commitment to the war against sanctuary cities for immigrants.
Jones has successfully shrugged off all attempts at governmental oversight and accountability for his department, and has held on to his position despite an appalling history of corruption, harassment, violence and abuse.
But on September 17, he recklessly picked a political street fight. The next day he lost it — dramatically and decisively.
Ultimately, the counterprotest mobilized by Jones was a small and pathetic group of open racists, who were shouted down when they attempted to project their politics outside of their cop-created space. They effectively failed to take the street, and they were too outnumbered and afraid to carry out the violence they had boldly promised the night before.
In the course of the day, Jones may have learned a hard lesson in the difference between official power and the power of the people.