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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Sacramento Police Department violates freedom of press, speech, assembly

85 protestors in support of Stephon Clark unjustly detained, held

Roughly 150 demonstrators gathered in Sacramento on Monday night to protest District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision to not prosecute the two police officers who shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man and father of two.

Although the march was largely peaceful and winding down by 10 p.m., the protestors were suddenly met by a squad of about 100 police officers donning full-fledged riot gear and carrying rifles, batons, pepper spray and tear gas. They promptly ordered the group to disperse. Yet as the marchers looked for ways out of the premises, they quickly found themselves being “kettled” — a controversial tactic in which police corral crowds into a restricted area and prohibit them from leaving.

By the end of the night, 85 demonstrators had been detained, including members of the clergy, legal observers, college students and journalists like Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee, who was handcuffed and held for an hour despite notifying the police that he was on assignment. Already straddled with persistent accusations of discrimination and excessive use of force, the Sacramento Police Department can now add violating rights of free press, speech and assembly to its record as well.

Sgt. Vance Chandler, the spokesperson for the police department, justified the arrests by claiming that marchers had been ordered no less than 10 times to disperse, and that at least five cars had been vandalized. But a handful of keyed cars cannot justify the excessive, militarized police presence, nor the mass arrest of 85 individuals — especially when that group includes reporters doing their jobs and clergy members trying to maintain peace. And the fact that the crowd was physically barred from leaving renders any number of orders to disperse moot.

Since Schubert announced her decision on Saturday, community members have expressed their grief, rage and sense of betrayal at City Council meetings, marches and peaceful sit-ins. The Sacramento community’s wound is profound and indicative of the chronic lack of trust and good will between the police department and citizens.

Last year, a few days after Clark’s shooting, Chief of Police Daniel Hahn said, “I see a department and city council brave enough to say we can do better, and willing to do the hard work to get there.” This week was the time for the Sacramento Police Department to make good on this promise — to showcase its willingness to begin the long, difficult process of reconciliation and building trust.

But with the protest on Monday, the department has already fallen pathetically short, cementing its reputation as a police force that relies on undue aggression and bad judgment — which, when mixed, can lead to horrific incidents like the mistaking of a cell phone for a gun that led to Clark’s killing. When officers aren’t held accountable for their crimes, the seemingly far-off vision of trust between the community and police becomes even farther. No one can bring Stephon Clark back or change the DA’s decision. The ball is officially in the Sacramento Police Department’s court to better itself as an institution — to adopt safer, smarter and more ethical policing tactics. So far, it has just given Sacramento all the more reason to protest.

Written by: The Editorial Board


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