Updated: Jan 20, 2022
How Sacramento City Council & the Board of Supervisors Can Take Actionable Steps to Prevent A Foster Youth like Ma’Khia Bryant From Being Killed by Police
Here’s a Hint: It Starts with the Upcoming Fiscal Year’s Budget
Pictured below: Ma'Khia Bryant
Just 20 minutes before a judge announced that a jury found former Minneapolis police Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, we saw the loss of life of another Black person at the hands of a police officer. This time it was Ma'Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl who was running toward two young women with a knife when an officer shot her outside the foster home she had been living in for about two months.
“Hey! Hey! Get down! Get down!” is the only attempt at de-escalation by police officer Nicholas Reardon that can be heard on his body-cam footage.
He fired four quick shots that killed Ma’Khia in an instant. Before being hired by the Columbus Ohio police department in December 2019, officer Reardon was a military-trained marksman, served in the U.S. Air National Guard, and he is the son of the police department’s longtime basic training sergeant (wait..who’s your daddy??). The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting a third-party investigation into Reardon’s killing of Ma’Khia.
After watching the footage, some experts say that the shooting is a justifiable use of deadly force since Ma’Khia was “armed and seemed to be acting erratically.” That she was just a teenager - a
teenager who had spent the last two years shuttling around different foster homes, hoping to return to her mother’s care - a teenager who was in the middle of an altercation in which she was presumed to be defending herself from two adult women who were demanding that she clean the house - did not matter.
Ma’Khia’s journey through foster care ended with police bullets, and this same story is just as likely to happen here in Sacramento unless the City Council and County Board of Supervisors take actionable steps to prioritize moving funds from law enforcement back into the community.
Step 1: Divest Funds from the Sacramento Police & Sheriff’s Department Budgets
The Sheriff’s Department is the largest item that the County Board of Supervisors has discretionary powers over. In the 2019-2020 budget, 37% went to the Sheriff’s Department and the next largest category was Probation, which got 9%. There is $4 million dollars that goes unspent by the Sheriff’s Office. Let’s not forget: at the Board’s request, County staff conducted a public Budget Workshop on February 4th to solicit input on budget priorities.
The county received 463 comments - with 297 (64%) of the comments stating the need to prioritize defunding law enforcement and reprogramming the money to a variety of social service programs. This resulted from a Board decision in September 2020 to gift the Sheriff’s department with an extra $38.2 million. The FY 2021-2022 Sacramento County proposed budget is said to be dropped on Friday June 4, with the first Board of Supervisors Budget hearing scheduled for Wednesday June 9 at 9:30am.
The current FY 2021-2022 Proposed Budget for the City of Sacramento includes a plan by the City Manager to increase the Police budget to an all-time high of $165.8 million, despite the creation of a new city department designed to shift certain duties away from the police. The increased funding is slated to be used to hire new sworn officers, obtain replacement patrol vehicles, and to give 3.5% raises to officers from their union contracts.
This is the same police department that has cost the City of Sacramento at least $7.6 million in lawsuits for wrongfully harming and killing community members in just the last 2 years alone. This is the same police department into which the Mayor and City Council have called for an independent investigation regarding their disproportionately violent response to antiracist protests since the murder of George Floyd, and this investigation has yet to be started much less completed.
Why have we become so comfortable with giving police so much money and power? Public safety is not about policing - public safety is about access to quality fair housing, quality food, safe and clean community spaces, healthcare services including mental health care, and workforce and economic development. We need to have less police and the existing police need to undergo a culture shift where they choose to use informed and educated judgement to find and choose the least intrusive alternative to deadly use of force. Instead of bloating the police budget to an all-time high, let’s actually reduce their funding by $30.5 million to bring the department budget to the 2019-2020 spending level. This makes sense, and is necessary, given the shift of many responsibilities to the Department of Community Response and other alternatives.
Step 2: Prioritize Existing Funds from the Sacramento Police & Sheriff’s Department Budgets to be used for Crisis Prevention & Intervention Training with a Focus on De-Escalation Tactics
De-escalation tactics, like verbally instructing Ma’Khia to drop the knife, physically getting between the women, or simply communicating with Ma’Khia, could have kept everyone alive.
The insistence that the officer had no other option than to take Ma’Khia’s life to save others — though he risked everyone’s life in the process — displays the lack of consideration and value that society places on the lives of Black girls and women.
There are countless examples of police peacefully apprehending white boys and men wielding weapons. Just last year police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, handed water bottles to and thanked 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-described militia member who carried an AR-15-style rifle during the unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse was allowed to leave the scene after fatally shooting two people and harming another, though the police had been informed that he was the shooter.
Anyone, including the officer, could have removed the person who was potentially going to be stabbed by Ma’Khia. Police officers have the ability to use verbal de-escalation, tasers, and/or batons before ever pulling a gun. The officer also had a choice of where to shoot Ma’Khia if he didn’t think any other viable options existed in that moment - he could have shot her in the foot, for example. If police have successfully completed training on crisis intervention, they should know appropriate ways of putting their hands on someone who may be a danger to themselves or to other people.
According to the Sacramento Police Department’s website, all police officers are required to attend a one-time, 8-hour crisis intervention awareness class. There is also a Crisis Intervention Team training that is 40 hours long; however, only 1 hour and 40 minutes of this training is focused on de-escalation. That’s only 100 minutes.
And remember all those recommendations made over the past three years by the Police Review Commission? City Council can go ahead & adopt all those recommendations too, and give City Manager Chan direction to implement them. From what I hear, Chan is a “Yes” man and will do what he’s told, especially now that he just recently got all City Councilmembers to approve a 21% salary increase for himself.
Step 3: Take the Funds Divested from the Police & Sheriff Budgets & Invest Them in Services that Prioritize Keeping Children with their Biological Family
There are more than 1700 children in foster care in Sacramento County. Children in foster care have experienced abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences that can negatively impact their physical and mental health. Foster youth living in group homes are 2.5 times more likely to get placed in the criminal justice system than youth placed with foster families. Additionally, more than 90% of youth in foster care with five or more placements will enter the juvenile justice system. By age 17, over half of foster youth have experienced an arrest, conviction, or spent at least one night in a correctional facility.
The foster care-to-prison pipeline particularly affects youth of color, LGBTQ-identified youth, and young people with mental illnesses. Black and Native American Children are far more likely to be removed from their homes, even when the circumstances surrounding the removal are similar. Once removed, Black and Native American children stay in care longer and are less likely to either reunite with their biological parents or be adopted. Black children are overrepresented in foster care and already face implicit bias and police brutality because of the color of their skin.
In 2018, Black children made up 23% of the kids in foster care nationally but only 14% of the total child population.
Placing children in unfamiliar settings with strangers can be traumatic, especially strangers who do not provide adequate supervision. Reports state that Ma’Khia’s foster mother was not home at the time of the crisis and that the foster mother may even have told the women, against whom Ma’Khia was defending herself, to confront Ma’Khia. Youth are removed from their families and placed in a foster care system that has a shortage of adequately trained case workers and may not be teaching coping skills or safe conflict resolution methods in every foster home. It was clear negligence that Ma'Khia faced a level of trauma that made her feel compelled to pull out a knife on two young women at her foster home.
According to “A Proclamation on National Foster Care Month, 2021” by President Joe Biden:
Too many children are removed from loving homes because poverty is often conflated with neglect, and the enduring effects of systemic racism and economic barriers mean that families of color are disproportionately affected by this as well.
There needs to be more funding redirected toward helping parents keep custody of their kids, as well as funding to prioritize supporting kinship care when children are not able to stay with their biological parents. One significant step our local government can take to rectify this is to prioritize appropriate funding for quality fair housing. This should look like funding the Emergency Housing Assistance program with $10 million and include $1 million for a revolving loan fund to assist low-income homeowners with code compliance issues, $4 million in legal aid support for tenants under the Tenant Protection Program, & $5 million in crisis funding for homelessness prevention. Additionally, the budget for the Department of Community Response can be increased by $6.5 million to bring the total department budget to $10 million to provide necessary programmatic support for implementation of the citywide master plan for homelessness.
Step 4: Take the Funds Divested from the Police & Sheriff Budgets & Invest in a 24/7 Alternative to Law Enforcement Response Program for Mental Health Crisis & Quality of Life Calls
Foster youth who have similar histories to Ma’Khia’s may display aggression and an inability to self-regulate their emotions and, consequently, engage in behaviors that can seem aggressive or involve weapons. But that doesn’t mean that these situations require or should be met with violent force. Instead, it’s the role of intervening professionals to stop an aggressive interaction from becoming fatal. It is worth considering whether Ma’Khia might have still been alive today if a mental health expert or a peer support specialist - someone trained in nonviolent de-escalation — had responded to the call.
Ma'Khia and her three siblings were initially placed with their paternal grandmother for 16 months after the children made allegations of ongoing physical abuse from their mother. Was her mother experiencing a mental health crisis at that time? And if so, would Ma’Khia’s mother receiving treatment in the community have been better than child protective services taking her children away from her?
We need more proactive, pre-emptive, & collaborative interventions that do not involve law enforcement.
We need to fund a sustainable 24/7 program where mental health professionals respond to mental health emergencies without police interference. Trained & unarmed civilian responders on the frontlines pose the least threat to people experiencing mental illness because they are trained to be effective while being the least confrontational, so as to not escalate the situation. Response teams should consist of mental health clinicians, peers with lived experience, social workers, and medical clinicians.
These response teams should have expertise in de-escalation and be trauma-informed, behavioral health-centered, and responsive to race, culture, gender, and disability. Because a majority of mental health emergencies include quality of life issues, crisis services must be included and consist of housing and shelter, mental health assessment and services, food, water, and other survival needs, medical care and medication, and crisis stabilization and respite centers. Yes, these interactions can be dangerous. And people trained and experienced in dealing with mental illness know these risks and they have techniques for dealing with them. We can decriminalize mental illness by providing access to mobile peer support, de-escalation assistance, and other non-punitive and life-affirming interventions.
In 2020, the City established the Department of Community Response in an effort to develop an alternative response model for 911 calls that do not require traditional emergency services, including mental health, homelessness, school response, youth and family crisis as well as substance issues. The duties of Homeless Services and Violence Prevention were combined with the new Department of Community Response.
The current figure proposed by the City is only $3.5 million, yet this Office is being tasked with tackling all of the City’s most pressing social and economic issues. Funding for the Department of Community Response should be increased by $20 million, including $6.5 million for programmatic support to implement the citywide master plan for homelessness.
Meanwhile, Sacramento County Board of Supervisors have been slow-cookin’ a mental health crisis response program since last Fall when Supervisor Kennedy proposed to divert at least $1.5 million Sheriff dollars into community-based crisis response. Since then, 568 people have participated in two community listening sessions and surveys held by County Behavioral Health regarding community-based crisis response, and they overwhelming recommended the following:
Response teams should consist of mental health clinicians, peers with lived experience, social workers, and medical clinicians - not law enforcement. Police officers tend to escalate a situation, simply by showing up on the scene. It can be triggering for people with behavioral health disorders, as these individuals are more likely to have experienced negative or traumatic contacts with the justice system.
Expertise should be de-escalation, trauma-informed, behavioral health-centered, and responsive to race, culture, gender, and disability.
Crisis services must include housing and shelter, mental health assessment and services, food, water, and other survival needs, medical care and medication, and crisis stabilization and respite centers
Community members have also stressed the importance of having a mental health crisis response program operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and service all 7 incorporated cities and unincorporated areas of Sacramento County; operate without law enforcement involvement; and have an advisory board that consists of community members. This program should be funded with at least $15 million and these funds should come from the Sheriff’s Department. County Board of Supervisors will hear a proposal for a response program centered on Alternatives to Law Enforcement for Mental Health Crises and Quality of Life Call during their Budget Hearings scheduled to start on Wednesday, June 9.
We can keep people out of jail. We can keep children with their parents. We can keep foster youth like Ma’Khia Bryant from being killed by police. We can keep us safe.
Divest Funds from the Sacramento Police & Sheriff’s Department Budgets
Prioritize Existing Funds from the Sacramento Police & Sheriff’s Department budgets to be used for crisis prevention & intervention training with a focus on de-escalation Tactics
Take the Funds Divested from the Police & Sheriff Budgets & invest them in services that prioritize keeping children with their biological families
Take the Funds Divested from the Police & Sheriff Budgets & invest in a 24/7 alternative to law enforcement response program for mental health crisis & quality of life calls that services all of Sacramento County, including the City of Sacramento.