The protests have been relentless, the criticism harsh, and all Dany Mohler has been able to do is absorb it. Her husband is a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy, and so is her brother, and all of them have deeply felt the denunciation directed at their law enforcement community in the months since the police-related deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“It’s been hard,” Mohler admitted Sunday, on the west steps of the state Capitol where a few hundred supporters rallied in support of the cops. “It’s brought up a lot of good conversations at home, but it’s very frustrating at the same time. Not everybody is willing to hear both sides. You only get to hear one side, and everybody’s against law enforcement.”
At Sunday’s rally, there was no effort on the part of organizers to defend or justify the deaths in Ferguson, Mo., and in New York City that gave rise to the coast-to-coast demonstrations. Instead, it was mainly a call for understanding and thanks by supporters of law enforcement, for what it’s like to be on their side of the badge and the necessity of its role in society.
“We recognize there is a broad opinion in this country, but there should be agreement about how important it is to have a safe community, a welcoming community, one where we can live free not only of the criminal element, but in security, in our homes, in our communities, our parks and our public spaces,” Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli said in a speech to the crowd. “To have good schools, to have libraries that are open and available to folks, to have parks and public areas, you need to have a safe community, and the primary premise of all those things … is the folks who are in uniform every day, 24/7, 365 days a year.”
While Nottoli spoke, a crowd of several dozen protesters massed to the north, on L Street, shouting a different message – one of outrage – over the fatal police shooting of Brown and the chokehold-related death of Garner, and other killings of suspects by police agencies all over the United States.
Jamier Sale’s rhetoric was harsh. He called police who used deadly force “killer cops,” and he said they need to be “brought to justice.” He wanted his words to be heard and felt by the pro-police people who put together and attended Sunday’s rally at the Capitol.
“I want the supporters of the police to know that the victims of police are not going to go away,” Sale said, as he gathered with the protesters who assembled in Crocker Park before their seven-block walk up the Capitol Mall. “When someone has lost a family member, then pain lives on. It does not go away. And when we see people gathering at the Capitol to support people who have cost us so many family members, we have to say something.”
Sale called for “greater accountability and oversight,” body cameras for cops, drug testing of the police “to make sure they’re not taking steroids.” He wanted an “examination of the existing structures … to see how we can better improve transparency.”
He said he was aware of the city of Sacramento’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability, which monitors the Police Department’s internal affairs operation, but expressed reservations about it because it’s “within the bureaucracy of the city.” He said the problem is racism and that he believes “it’s ingrown in every single police force in this nation.”
City police and California Highway Patrol officers blocked the protesters from entering the heart of the support rally, but the chants of the counter-demonstrators could be heard by the podium as Nottoli, state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and other speakers such as Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence and commentator Bruce Maiman spoke to the crowd.
The protesters’ shouting did not seem to disturb the rally organizers or speakers, least of all Tom Blount, whose son, Kevin Blount, was one of two Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies killed in a 2005 on-duty helicopter crash. The other was Joseph Kievernagel.
“At this moment, I would like to have our friends over here to my right exercising their right of free speech, I’d like them to realize they have their right of free speech because my son gave his life, to ensure they have that right,” Blount said, to the crowd’s applause.
“He realized that his job was such that he was serving people in our community who he loved,” Blount continued. “He was born and raised in our community. He loved being from this area, and he loved providing police protection to people in this area. He was so proud of the job he was doing for our citizens.”
Sunday’s support rally was organized by Dave Jenest, a longtime midtown neighborhood anti-crime activist who heads an organization called Patriot Defenders Network Inc.
“They get up every morning, they come into our communities, they protect and they serve and they serve compassionately,” Jenest said of the police. “Are there problems to deal with? Absolutely. But when you consider that of the millions of contacts that law enforcement makes with our citizens every day, these incidents (like the Brown and Garner deaths) are infinitesimal. People forget that (police) are the first line to victims of horrific and violent crimes, that they have families to return to every day and hope they do after every shift, and that’s why we’re here.”