City attacks free speech
Katie Valenzuela (left) and Skyler Henry (right)
Earlier this month Councilmember Katie Valenzuela (District 4) hired Skyler Henry, a local Sacramento activist, to lead her team’s constituent services and communications work. In an ill-conceived attack on the right to free speech, the City Council of Sacramento voted 8 to 1 to file a restraining order against Skyler on June 15th, which would have kept him from physically working at the Capitol. The temporary restraining order was denied, but it is possible that a permanent restraining order could be granted in the future. Skyler subsequently filed a countersuit seeking damages from the city for attempting to suppress his right to free speech. The controversy is centered around episode 145 of the podcast Voices: River City, which Skyler co-hosts. The following statement, found in this article from the Sac Bee, is the one that has been circling around in the news, and which City Attorney Susana Alcalca Wood described as a “terror tactic”:
You should be terrified for the rest of your life...You should never be able to leave your house if that is how you’re going to use your position to govern. And like, to me, the same thing sort of applies with the mayor and the city manager of this city (Sacramento). It’s like no, no, no, you don’t get to do that. You do not get to make the decisions that you have made over and over and over again to the detriment of everybody who lives here and then go home to your f------ little McMansion in Natomas and like have a good night’s rest. I’m sorry, you don’t get to do that. You do not have a right to that. Absolutely not.
The initial piece of the quote was directed at Democratic Senator Krystan Sinema (D-Ariz.) who voted against including a $15 minimum wage in Biden’s coronavirus relief bill. The latter piece of the quote references the protests that took place outside the homes of Mayor Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chan.
Before getting into further discussion around this, we want to lift up a quote from Councilmember Valenzuela, from this Sac Bee article, about Skyler’s statements:
That was said before Skyler was employed by the city...he’s entitled to his opinions and First Amendment free speech. It’s not a statement I agree with, but I can speak to him being the most qualified candidate for the position.
That quote pretty much sums it up. This clearly was not a direct threat of violence - rather it was an expression of anger at a city government that failed to keep its city members safe and alive. Protests at the homes of members of local government threaten the power and privilege of members of our community who make decisions that literally KILL people. It is absurd to equate property damage with the loss of human life, and it’s even more absurd to equate a statement of frustration with a direct threat of violence.
The point Skyler was making, whether it was worded well or not, is that if you are in a position of power, and you use that power either directly or indirectly to kill your fellow community members, you should be held accountable. Is Skyler advocating for physical violence as retribution? No. Rather, he’s expressing the anger that is rightfully felt by many people in our community about the fact that government officials regularly get away with murder. The POINT of his statement is that people who do harm should feel discomfort, and they should feel pressure to do better. They should not get to wipe their hands clean of death at the end of the day. In sum, property damage of the privileged does not equate to the bodily harm inflicted by the privileged against our marginalized communities.
Setting aside the arguments in support of his statements, the fact is that this was an attempt to regulate free speech from progressives. It is clear upon listening to the full podcast episode that this was a statement intended to encourage holding members of government accountable, through political action, for the health and safety of the people they govern.