Black community leaders, supported by the mayor and two City Council members, spoke out at Tuesday night’s Sacramento City Council meeting and called for greater police accountability.
Organizers called for a nine-point plan of reforms as about 200 mostly black men and some women packed the small council chambers of Old City Hall, where the meeting was held, and filled the plaza outside.
“We are tired of living in a state of fear every time our children step outside their homes,” said Richard Owens, one of the speakers. “There is a seething tension in the black community.”
Councilmen Rick Jennings and Allen Warren helped coordinate the event with local black leaders, said Rashid Sidqe, one of the organizers.
Mayor Kevin Johnson also helped facilitate the gathering, according to spokeswoman Crystal Strait, but he was not present at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Jennings said he helped with the event because, “We have African American men that want to do something positive for the Sacramento community. It’s the right thing to do.”
The speakers called for more transparency in policing, especially with the use of body and dashboard cameras, and increased training on use of force, community engagement and cultural understanding.
“We need to change the view of the police as an army of occupation in some of our poorer neighborhoods,” said Marion Woods, a local civil rights activist who went to school with Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta and served as a minority-employment official with the state of California.
“In Sacramento, for example, when a person makes a call from East Sacramento, the officer arrives with an attitude of service,” he said. “Too often, when a citizen of south Sacramento or Del Paso Heights calls, the officer arrives with a sense of suspicion and annoyance.”
The activists also asked for data both about the makeup of the police force and statistics including information on traffic stops.
One of the main reforms the group requested was a close look at the Sacramento Community Police Commission, which was established last year by the council to analyze diversity on the force and examine policies regarding “bias-free policing.”
“This is a big, big deal for us,” said Richard Owens, one of the speakers. “We want to know exactly what they have accomplished. We cannot accept the Police Department investigating itself.”
Speakers also said they hoped their action could help prevent the kind of violence that has broken out in cities across the nation in recent weeks to protest the shooting of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the killing of police officers in Louisiana and Dallas.
But they cautioned that Sacramento was not immune.
“Can it happen here?” questioned Woods. “We don’t know. But we do know if we do nothing to prevent it from happening here, the chances are it can.”