Reporter Dale Kasler: ‘It dawned on me...I could get detained as well.’

Bee reporter films being detained by Sacramento police at Stephon Clark protest

Dale Kasler was detained while covering a Stephon Clark protest in East Sacramento on March 4, 2019. The protests come after the announcement that the two officers who shot the unarmed Clark would not be charged.
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Dale Kasler was detained while covering a Stephon Clark protest in East Sacramento on March 4, 2019. The protests come after the announcement that the two officers who shot the unarmed Clark would not be charged.

Dozens of us, effectively penned in by a phalanx of police officers by a police cordon at the edge of the Highway 50 overpass, had nowhere to go. Then the arrests started.

A protest march over the shooting death of Stephon Clark, and the Sacramento County district attorney’s decision not to prosecute the police officers who killed him, had proceeded relatively peacefully for more than two hours through the tony Fab 40s neighborhood of East Sacramento. While emotions were raw, the 150 or so demonstrators had largely avoided altercations with residents.

The group had looped back to the street in front of Trader Joe’s, where the march had begun more than two hours earlier, and I had the feeling the evening was winding down. But the arrival of about 100 riot police seemed to ratchet up tensions again.

The protesters and the police engaged in a lengthy standoff across Folsom Boulevard, with a police officer announcing that the marchers were engaged in an “unlawful assembly” and had to leave.

It was one of several such announcements that were made during the evening, but this time the officers apparently had decided enough was enough. They began advancing on the protesters, shouting, “Move! Move! Move!” in unison. The marchers retreated, and eventually headed south on the 51st Street bridge that passes over Highway 50, heading toward P Street.

But becoming increasingly clear was that we had nowhere to go. A group of bicycle police officers had taken up a position at the south end of the overpass, by P Street, and wouldn’t let the marchers go any further.

By this point I was live-streaming the demonstration for The Sacramento Bee’s Facebook page, surrounded by people saying they simply wanted to get to their cars and go home. We were increasingly hemmed in, surrounded by the police, and some of the marchers started yelling at the officers. Most of them wanted to know how they could leave.

It was an uncomfortable 20 minutes or so, with people pressed in against one another and trying not to get hurt. One person apparently stumbled into me from behind – the kind of thing that can sometimes turn into a dangerous situation. But it went no further than that.

Then officers began carting people off, one by one. Just a few minutes earlier I had been talking with some of the clergy who arrived at the last minute to try to keep the peace, people such as Pastor Les Simmons of the South Sacramento Christian Center, the Rev. Brian Michael Levingston of Destiny Church, and the Rev. Shane Harris of San Diego, head of the People’s Alliance for Justice.

Now I was watching Harris get carted off.

Someone shouted out a phone number for the National Lawyers Guild, a group that observes protests to make sure demonstrators are treated appropriately by law enforcement (Several of the guild representatives were watching from behind the police line). Several of the protesters began scribbling the number on the back of their hands.

At some point it dawned on me – I can be pretty slow sometimes – that I could get detained as well. I continued with the Facebook feed until two officers came up to me and ziptied my hands behind my back. I had held up my Bee badge and explained that I was a journalist but was taken into custody anyway. My phone was taken out of my hand – I think that was the end of the Facebook feed – although an officer placed it in my pants pocket for me.

I was sat down on a curb on the overpass, chatting with some of my fellow detainees. The officers were professional and courteous – one retrieved the satchel where I store my Bee-issued iPad, which had fallen to the ground – but explained that I, like the others, had refused the order to disperse. Another officer said that when they get the order to arrest a large group like ours, they sweep up everyone and don’t make distinctions based on occupation.

Within an hour, some higher-ups were summoned, I was pulled out of the line and my zipties were cut. I gave a brief statement to a sergeant. The others were taken to Cal Expo, where they were processed and released. I was released, texted my wife and scurried over to meet my Bee colleagues. I now had somewhere to go.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.