Journalists across the Sacramento region describe last Sunday’s riot at Capitol Park as among the most violent events they’ve covered.
The final tally was 10 people injured, five stabbed. The out-of-control protesters were photographed and caught on video attacking KCRA’s Mike Luery and videographer John Breedlove, as well as random passers-by. They used sticks the heft of baseball bats, knives and chunks of concrete. The Bee’s Paul Kitagaki Jr. barely avoided two concrete chunks and was caught in pepper spray, as was Frances Wang of Channel 10 (KXTV).
It was a melee between neo-Nazis – who had been given a permit for a rally on Capitol grounds – and a loosely organized group of self-identified anti-fascists, or “Antifa,” who came armed to shut down the rally. We have yet to hear satisfying answers to questions we’ve asked in the aftermath, particularly from the CHP: Why did officers appear to hang back as the initially quiet crowd erupted into violence? And why were no arrests made before protesters were allowed to leave?
If you haven’t yet watched the video online, you might want to. The scene is chaos, with black-clad protesters chasing and bashing people to the ground with violent whacks of their heavy sticks. In many videos protesters are fighting with no law enforcement in sight. In others you see police moving in to protect the injured, or to protect the Capitol, or riding horses to separate the crowds. In the sometimes second-by-second photo frames from Kitagaki taken over the course of a couple of hours, it appears police were outmanned as the violence moved fast between L Street to N Street, and the full length of the park between 10th and 15th streets.
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Sacramento police say they had 100 officers assigned to keep the peace. The California Highway Patrol, which issued the permit and is in charge of Capitol grounds, has refused to say how many officers were on duty other than dozens more than a usual Sunday. But video and photos show the CHP did not have nearly as many officers visible as local law enforcement.
The CHP has declined to get specific in answers to other questions as well, the kind of questions that deserve a public response. For starters, what was the advance coordination between the two agencies since the state controls the park and the city was working to protect surrounding environs and people? And, what is the agency’s policy about keeping radical protesters separated?
I have never been personally attacked to the extent I was today.
Mike Luery, KCRA
Ellen Garrison, The Bee’s local government reporter, was working Sunday when she recorded the 10:55 a.m. attack on Luery with her iPad. Thankfully the half-dozen protesters who hit him and knocked him down didn’t go after Garrison. Luery described the attack later for a KCRA broadcast: “I’ve been involved in other protests before and covered many different events, but this was the one that was the most violent. I have never been personally attacked to the extent I was today.”
Wang for Channel 10 tweeted video throughout the riot, the worst of which lasted about an hour.
“A lot of people needing medical attention. Trying to report yet stay away because of pepper spray in the air,” she tweeted. Later in another video you can hear Wang yell for police help as protesters try to attack what appears to be a passer-by with a bike. After it all ended, Wang tweeted that she was fine except for a few scratches and eyes that hurt from pepper spray.
The Bee’s Sam Stanton arrived at the scene and saw police and CHP officers everywhere – and rampant fighting that was allowed to go on unchecked. By 11:44 a.m., Kitagaki’s time-stamped photos show protesters running for N Street and police moving in with their batons held out, to create a perimeter around stabbing victims so emergency personnel could get to them. By 12:09 p.m., there is a raging fight at the top of the West steps of the Capitol and law enforcement is seen nearby, without intervening. Within minutes, though, CHP officers force back protesters so they can escort two bleeding neo-Nazis to safety inside the Capitol. All the while, chunks of concrete and rocks are flying.
Protesters harassed Kitagaki and tried to forcibly take his camera. They demanded he delete photos, and got in his face to use their hands and bodies to block other photos. The Bee’s Steve Magagnini tried to interview the anti-fascists and found “several were quite hostile.” Even after the initial coverage Magagnini has had protesters contacting him, some with threats.
They were letting it happen. … It was surreal, with police not getting involved between two groups of protesters.
Paul Kitagaki Jr., Bee visual journalist
Kitagaki and Stanton are experienced journalists who have covered chaotic events. Kitagaki covered the 1999 Seattle riots protesting the WTO, which resulted in much destruction, and rioting in the 1980s in Berkeley. Stanton covered the violent copper mining strike riots in Arizona in the 1980s and numerous events involving white supremacist groups and militias. Through all of it, Stanton said, “I can’t recall ever walking into a situation where police were standing back while participants were swinging and charging at each other without cops reacting.”
“Nobody’s seen a police response like this,” he said. “It was just strange.”
Kitagaki has been between lines of police and protesters. He’s watched police on horses effectively move crowds out.
On Sunday, “It didn’t seem law enforcement was trying to move people out of the property,” Kitagaki said. “They were letting it happen. … It was surreal, with police not getting involved between two groups of protesters.”
At one point, Magagnini said, “There’s no question the crowd was trying to bait the police officers, and the police officers stood their ground and did not engage.”
At the end of the day there was shock at what happened, many questions, but no arrests. Matt McPhail of the Sacramento Police Department told Stanton, “Just because an arrest has not been made does not mean that these crimes will go unpunished,” and CHP’s George Granada simply confirmed an ongoing investigation.
Outraged readers are asking the same question as local journalists. Stanton said: “The question they (law enforcement) can’t answer – how the hell can five people get stabbed in front of you and you don’t arrest anyone?”