Sacramento sergeant speaks about protest arrests, police tactics at scene
What began as a relatively mellow Stephon Clark protest outside a Trader Joe’s supermarket in East Sacramento turned into a spectacle as more than 100 riot police arrested 84 protesters and detained a Sacramento Bee reporter Monday night.
About 100 protesters, organized through The Table Sacramento, started marching shortly before 7 p.m. in opposition to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s recent decision not to charge the police officers who shot Clark in his grandparents’ backyard last March. Clark, 22, had been holding a cell phone police thought was a gun.
On Monday, the trouble started when a Tahoe Park resident named Dan Iverson arrived at 40th and J streets in a “Make America Great Again” hat and quickly found himself facing several angry protesters. The protesters shouted Clark’s name at Iverson and blew whistles before stealing the hat off his head. Iverson, who came to the protest with his teen daughter, said he was shocked at the reception.
“I know, I know — why did I come down here wearing the hat? Because — to see what would happen,” Iverson said. “This is supposed to be a freedom of speech rally.”
Riot police moved in slowly, batons elongated, before the situation diffused. Around that time, police said, protesters keyed at least five cars in Fab Forties neighborhood.
That and other vandalism caused the police to herd protesters back to Trader Joe’s and instruct them to disperse or face pepper spray, stun guns and/or arrests. Black activists such as Berry Accius and Sonia Lewis later disputed that any vandalism occurred.
Sacramento Bee photographer Hector Amezcua was pushed to the ground by an officer’s baton and had his equipment damaged during the move back. Once in the vicinity of Trader Joe’s and having given instructions to disperse over megaphones, police detained six people on suspicion of unlawful assembly, spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said.
About two-thirds of the group then moved to the 51st Street overpass over Highway 50, where they found themselves facing police officers on both sides of the bridge. As police continued to call for them to disassemble, the group yelled back that they had nowhere to go because they were boxed in by officers.
Police then began handcuffing people on the bridge in plastic twist ties, including Rev. Shane Harris of The People’s Alliance for Justice and South Sacramento Christian Center pastor Les Simmons. Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler, who had been live-streaming the protest on Facebook, was handcuffed and detained for about an hour before being released.
Several other media members yelled that Kasler, who was wearing his media credentials on a lanyard around his neck, was not a protester. He told the detaining officer himself, he said, but it made no difference.
“I held up my press credentials and said, ‘I’m a reporter for The Bee,’ and this guy said ‘Okay’ and took me off,” Kasler said. “They said, ‘When doing mass detention, these kinds of things, we don’t pick and choose. Everybody goes.’”
Bee publisher Gary Wortel and executive editor Lauren Gustus called Mayor Darrell Steinberg after learning of Kasler’s detention, and Steinberg pushed privately for the officers to release him from custody. Steinberg expressed his displeasure with the police force’s handling of the rally and how long it took Kasler to be released in a phone call with The Bee.
“I’m very disappointed with the way this ended. But I want to withhold judgment until I ask some serious questions in the morning. These are important questions,” Steinberg said. “It’s a reporter doing his job. This is extremely troubling to me.”
Reports Tuesday morning surfaced that two other journalists – Scott Rodd of the Sacramento Business Journal and William Coburn of the State Hornet, the student publication at Sacramento State – were arrested. Police Tuesday morning could not confirm that they had known the reporters were among those arrested.
Many of the other detainees were transported to Cal Expo, where dozens of well-wishers greeted them with food and water as they trickled out of police custody after midnight. Some protesters would be released with citations, Chandler said, while others could be arrested and jailed.
Harris, who flew up to Sacramento with Clark’s girlfriend Salena Manni after Schubert’s decision Saturday, said it was the first time he had ever been detained.
“It’s pretty traumatizing, but at the same time, it’s what black and brown men go through across the country every day,” Harris said. “This is not going to stop my fight for justice. I’ve been fighting with this family since the very beginning and I’m committed to standing up for them.”
More protests could be on tap Tuesday. The Black Lives Matter Sacramento Facebook group has called for an occupation of the Sacramento Police Department on Tuesday afternoon. The Sacramento City Council meets Tuesday night and activists have protested at their meetings in the past.
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