Demonstrators at the state Capitol on Monday and in the Sacramento County supervisors chambers on Tuesday were moved to assemble, to assert their First Amendment rights.
One after the other, the protesters – many of them African American – pleaded for people to understand that their lives mattered. They spoke of their fear of becoming another statistic, of being killed during a traffic stop or during some other interaction with law enforcement. Some were seeking specific targets for their outrage, but there were none to be found on either day. Not really.
Sacramento is not Baton Rouge, La., or suburban St. Paul, Minn., where African American men recently were shot to death by law enforcement officers in separate incidents captured on cellphone videos.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is not conspiring with the Sheriff’s Department to levy fines against citizens in order to bolster county coffers. That actually happened in Ferguson, Mo., where African American people and others were targeted as revenue sources, according to a 2015 U.S. Department of Justice report. Add routine violations of the constitutional rights of Ferguson citizens, as found by the DOJ, and you have the atmosphere for the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, an African American teenager, by a white Ferguson police officer.
In Sacramento, we’ve followed reports of these abuses, mostly as witnesses to a debate that’s dividing the nation. For many reasons – including good fortune – Sacramento has not exploded in racial animosity sparked by law enforcement actions.
Some Black Lives Matter demonstrators have cited one case in Sacramento, the October 2015 fatal shooting of Adriene Ludd by sheriff’s deputies. Ludd’s family has accused officers of using excessive force. But protests related to his death have been peaceful. Rick Braziel, the county’s independent inspector general, is reviewing the Ludd shooting and expects to issue his report soon.
So when demonstrators spoke earlier this week in Sacramento, some were merely venting. One speaker on Tuesday kept repeating that all five county supervisors should be fired. Sitting on the dais was Supervisor Phil Serna, who worked with Black Lives Matters members and others to launch a $26 million program to address the disproportionate number of African American children who die in this county every year.
According to California Department of Public Health data analyzed by The Sacramento Bee, 9.1 African American children per 10,000 under the age of 18 died in Sacramento County between 2010 and 2015, compared with 3.6 for whites and 2.9 for Hispanics. Among the leading causes of death were perinatal conditions, sleep-related issues and homicides.
The county effort, spearheaded by Serna, seeks to cut the number of African American deaths between 10 and 20 percent by 2020.
Before police shootings took over the national narrative in the last week, BLM members in Sacramento roundly praised Serna and other county supervisors in 2015 for putting money behind the effort to save young, black lives.
“A fortunate and welcome byproduct here (of the effort to combat the child deaths among African American kids) is the goodwill to have a civil discourse in Sacramento,” Serna said. “(On Tuesday) we felt we were listening and being respectful of the speakers. They were frustrated, but it didn’t manifest itself in a protest steeped in disorder.”
Serna, like other public officials in Sacramento, is sympathetic to the cause of BLM. He has also called out Sheriff Scott Jones, a congressional candidate, for his support of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Meanwhile, in the city of Sacramento, African Americans make up just 12 percent of the population. Yet four of nine city council members are African American, including Mayor Kevin Johnson. The night that Ferguson erupted in protests after the white police officer who killed Michael Brown was not indicted, Johnson was with leaders of the Sacramento Police Department at community meetings that allowed people to vocalize their grievances – but where the peace was maintained.
When demonstrators marched on the state Capitol on Monday, there many African Americans in the crowd. But there were also people of other ethnicities, both young and old. It was a diverse group that stopped to applaud local officers for being present but not oppressive.
On Tuesday, at the supervisors meeting, the expressions of frustration from demonstrators never became strident. Speakers were supported by audience members and county supervisors. People posed for pictures together, and in the end, everyone filed out peacefully.
The story was that there was no tragic or turbulent scene of unrest to report. A shared prayer for our community is that it remains peaceful in the months ahead.