Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Sacramento City Council Decides Independent Review will be the “Judge and the Jury” on SacPD’s Response to Protests
The last item on January 19 Sacramento City Council meeting agenda ran almost until midnight. The topic was the Sacramento Police Department’s response to protests - particularly those that have occurred since the November elections. Pro-Trump, Proud Boys, and other white supremacist hate groups have been gathering in downtown Sacramento most Saturdays since Trump lost the election. Unsurprisingly, concerns have been growing over the likelihood of connections and shared ideologies of the demonstrators in Sacramento protesting the presidential election outcome, as well as pro-Trump Sacramento area cops, to the same hate groups and domestic terrorists that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
The wildly disparate treatment of demonstrations by known hate groups (e.g.. Proud Boys) like we saw on January 6 compared to the treatment of racial justice groups and Black Lives Matter protests by police departments across the US last summer, including here in Sacramento, has now been exposed on a mainstream level.
Thanks to community activists, including the City Council’s own Katie Valenzeula - who have been voicing concerns about the police standing by and allowing Proud Boys’ unlawful assemblies, harassment, and violence towards peaceful counter-protestors - the City decided to hold a public forum on the January 19 agenda to discuss the City’s past and future actions related to “protest response”.
Before people could weigh in, however, the item discussion was kicked off by a long, pre-prepared speech by SacPD Chief Hahn. He made one acceptable point, which is that “people” often call for harsher police responses to racial equity. However, he failed to recognize that not all of the population calls for this response. Having this demand from some constituents isn’t an excuse, and that these “people” include law enforcement.
He also emphasized the costs of recent protests to the City, the fact that apparently there has been diversion of resources from proactive crime prevention, and the “sacrifices” officers make to do their job. He highlighted the violence committed by groups like Antifa and Proud Boys (which SacPD called out repeatedly through their presentation as the two main “groups” causing trouble, often failing to differentiate the “violence” committed on each side).
“One group, based on what some experts say, is a white extremist group that seems to desire to return to our past, while the other group seems to want to destroy our form of government altogether. Regardless of their ideologies, they are both violent and put our community in danger,” Hahn said.
Before introducing Deputy Chief Kathy Lester’s presentation, Chief Hanh quotes Malcolm X: “We must go to the cause or the root. That dealing with the condition is not enough” and asked us to live up to what Martin Luther King Jr. preached, “and not just repeat his quotes.”
The ironies were just beginning.
Deputy Chief Lester played the Police Department’s handpicked selection of videos of events and “clashes” between the Proud Boys and Antifa, accompanied by Deputy Lester’s personal analysis and commentary. It was an obvious attempt to defend against rising criticism and public awareness that SacPD has treated white supremacist demonstrations more favorably than those advocating for racial justice and protesting police brutality. All the while, Deputy Chief Lester portrayed “Antifa and their associates” and “Proud Boys and their associates” as equivalent dangers to the safety of the community and police officers as victims of anti-police sentiments and hostility throughout the presentation.
SacPD topped off their presentation with another, long, overly formal speech, this time in a pre-recorded video of Chief Hahn calling for... “peace.”
Once public comment was opened, what did the people have to say?
There's too much to fit in two minutes per person. Numerous residents called in and it was clear people were not impressed by PD’s presentation.
Here are the highlights from public comment:
“Officers themselves are sympathetic to supremacists”, have “allowed” and “enabled” white supremacist groups to organize and grow strong
SacPD’s response to the May 2020 George Floyd protests compared to the Proud Boys demonstrations has been “night and day”
SacPD’s presentation provided no impartial analysis and “falsely-equated” counter-protestors who stand guard for black and brown people against a known white-supremacist hate group
Police are “built on the premise of white supremacy”
That the police have an equal response to racist groups vs. anti-racism groups is a “bold faced lie” and SacPD is “more concerned about property loss than lives lost”
The presentation was an “incomplete conversation,” a “misrepresentation”, “disrespectful”, “propaganda”, “one-sided”, “hyper-critical of antifa,” and “structured in a biased way” that failed to show the unjustified “brutality” inflicted by police themselves “because it didn’t fit the narrative”
Practically every commenter was cut short, making it obvious so much more needed to be said.
What did City Council say?
Councilmember Katie Valenzuela expressed her discomfort with comparing the two groups “as if they were apples to apples” and called for a public workshop that promotes accountability in light of the “one directional” nature of the discussion. She went “rogue” (her word) and shared her screen to play 20 minutes of raw Black Zebra footage that exposed SacPD violent tactics during and since the George Floyd demonstrations. These police actions had been conveniently not shown by Deputy Chief Lester. The excessive force and militant brutality against peaceful protestors shown in the videos aligned with the experiences described by a number of the public commenters.
Councilmember Mai Vang clearly stated her belief that police “tactics are not equally deployed, not just in Sacramento but across the nation” and also said equating white supremacist and anti-semitic groups in the same sentence as counterprotestors legitimizes groups that are working to undermine our democratic institutions.” Vang also called for follow-up for the complaints made during the public comment and for community members and organizers to be directly involved in community solutions.
Councilmember Sean Loloee said he dislikes the general blanket “white supremacist” label on the whole SacPD - stating “yes, there are a few bad apples in every organization”. However, he made a pretty strong, blanket statement when he said he sees “antifa at equally the same scale as Proud Boys” and called them both “domestic terrorists”, “despicable,” “disgusting” and “against Sacramento without a doubt.”
Mayor Steinberg, Councilmember Angelique Ashby, Vice Mayor Jeff Harris, and Councilmember Eric Jennings all praised Chief Hahn as one of the best police chiefs in California, possibly the nation. The fact that Chief Hahn is black was noted on multiple occasions.
Several councilmembers, including Mayor Steinberg, expressed distaste over Councilmember Valenzuela’s decision to play the Black Zebra footage at the end of an already long meeting.
Mayor Steinberg dismissed Councilmember Valenzuela’s proposed workshop idea, saying the City Council is “not a judge and a jury” on the community’s vs. the police department’s videos and that their job is to focus on “policy”.
The outcome of the meeting?
Mayor Steinberg called for an independent review to be led by the Office of Public Safety Accountability Director LaTesha Watson with involvement from the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission and possibly from an independent consultant, to further investigate and analyze all the information presented to the Council regarding SacPD’s response to protests and provide recommendations to the City Council “within a relatively short period of time” (Mayor’s words). Neither Watson nor the Police Commission report to the City Manager or Police Chief
After several hours of what council members called a “very heavy” discussion, they voted in favor of the Mayor’s recommendation.
At the very end of the meeting, Councilmember Loloee apologized to everyone if his tone during his earlier comments “came out the wrong way." But he stopped short of retracting his statement equating white supremacists and domestic terrorists with Antifa counter protestors, after Mayor Steinberg called him out for it and said he disagreed.
To be continued!! Great work to all the members of the public who made their concerns heard and continue to hold SacPD accountable to anti-racism and social justice values!!!