Right about the time my colleague Dale Kasler, covering a Monday night demonstration fueled by discontent in Sacramento’s less affluent neighborhoods, was handcuffed and detained, the self image of the state capital as a progressive and diverse community was exposed as a fanciful exaggeration.
Sacramento is not nearly as cool as it thinks it is.
The protesters who targeted the Fabulous 40s neighborhood were already making that point.
On Saturday, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert cleared the city cops who killed an unarmed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard. So on Monday night, 70 to 100 people took their despair and rage to the ornate homes that have symbolized legacy money in Sacramento.
The Fab 40s are where filmmaker Greta Gerwig set some of the most crucial scenes of “Lady Bird,” her Oscar-nominated homage to her hometown. It was lovely cinema, but it never hinted at the Sacramento where Clark was killed.
If you chose to ignore or dismiss the protesters – or you ignore that you can live in Sacramento and rarely come in contact with the realities that shaped Clark’s life and death – then Kasler’s arrest probably means nothing to you. But we have now added trampling press freedoms on a public street to the equation of Sacramento reality.
Monday’s events symbolized the hypocritical and transactional forces in the capital of the bluest, most populous state in the nation. Words and deeds don’t match up. Here, a charismatic Sacramento Police chief can smile and make people swoon, beguiling them into believing that his department does not lack in diversity when it does. Or to think that Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn’s department is not mistrusted in many communities in Sacramento when it is. Or to think that Hahn has ironed out structural, tactical and training problems when he hasn’t.
What’s the statute of limitations on honeymoons? A little more than 18 months have passed since Hahn took the reins of a troubled department in August of 2017. Clark was killed in March of 2018. His officers were cleared on Saturday. His officers handcuffed and detained Kasler on Monday, even though Kasler identified himself, has worked in this community for more than 20 years and even though a group of media people shouted at the officers from distance that they were arresting the wrong guy.
Up until now, everything has slid off of Hahn’s back. All the heat from the Clark killing has fallen on Schubert, even though no one working under Schubert has killed anyone. The rest of it has fallen on Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, even though Steinberg technically doesn’t have any direct authority over Hahn. Hahn reports to City Manager Howard Chan.
And after the last year, Hahn and Chan deserve way more heat than they have received. They are both great guys. They are both well-liked and respected around town. But when officers under you kill an unarmed man for breaking windows, then you either need to demonstrate an organizational course correction or face the heat for failing to do so.
While waiting for that to happen, Sac PD arrested a credentialed, working journalist armed with a note pad and a cell phone. Kasler was there to document a demonstration. He was an observer, not a participant.
Personally, I have lived and worked in this city for nearly 30 years and seen some pretty hairy stuff in that time, and yet this was a first.
More, Bee photographer Hector Amezcua was pushed to the ground by a cop’s baton, his equipment damaged. Pastors were detained.
For those who will say that an order to disperse had been given and that Kasler should have left, I have a newsflash for you: A free press puts us in harm’s way to document the world around us so that you – the reader – can be informed and make up your own mind about what you saw and heard. The moment that any government – including a municipal government – starts messing with that, you are less informed and we are less free.
And that some people dismiss this guiding principle only proves that our freedom is so great, we can take it for granted.
What else are we taking for granted? Our privilege. If you’re reading this, chances are you have never worried about being pulled over by police. Chances are someone you love hasn’t met a violent demise. Chances are you don’t know that 70 percent of the kids in the Sacramento City Unified School District qualify for free or discounted lunches.
More? Chances are you don’t know that racist housing covenants kept people of color out of the Fab 40s and other gracious neighborhoods for decades. Chances are you don’t know that city leaders have seen fit to dump services for homeless in the same neighborhoods time and again.
Steinberg and some of his allies are following that pattern again, eyeballing Meadowiew and North Sacramento – neighborhoods where large numbers of black and brown folks live – as the sites for housing large numbers of homeless people.
So why did protesters descend on the Fab 40s? Well, maybe they are tired of nice words from Steinberg, Hahn, Schubert and other elected officials when their neighborhoods continue being left behind.
The night that Clark was killed almost a year ago was so dark you couldn’t see.
So cops chased Clark into a backyard – while a Sacramento Sheriff’s helicopter hovered overhead – because he was “breaking windows.” He was killed for that. And if some don’t see why people would be frustrated that such an outcome would be legally justified under the law, maybe they can try harder to understand.
Maybe in a quiet moment you can find some thoughtful introspection and acknowledge that many of us live in bubbles of safety in Sacramento. I was in one on Monday. I was at the Kings game, in great seats that I paid for, surrounded by people fully disconnected from what was happening outside.
I sat in my seat, watching the demonstration unfold on Twitter and it hit me: I was sitting in a Golden 1 Center crawling with cops and security. As I left with family members, we felt perfectly safe walking back to our cars. We had a gracious evening of carefree entertainment.
For all of us who were disconnected, the work of journalists was a lifeline, a connection for those who care to try to understand. On Monday night, journalists worked an incredibly long shift, on their feet, in the night chill, trying to shed light on a dark period in our city history.
That’s what Dale Kasler was doing until city cops handcuffed him. Is this who we are, Sacramento?