Members of Sacramento’s faith community gathered Thursday evening outside the Sacramento County Jail to mourn the deaths of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota at the hands of law enforcement officers.
The fatal shootings of Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge on Tuesday and Philando Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights on Wednesday were reminiscent of deaths of African American men in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities across the country, said members of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, which organized the local rally.
Faith leaders put out a call Thursday morning that drew approximately 200 people.
“How are we going to speak hope?” said Danielle Williams, one of the organizers. “How are we going to allow people to grieve, to process, to heal, to vent and also to give a call to action?”
Although this week’s shootings occurred halfway across the country, Williams noted that the Sacramento-area has seen its share of officer-involved shootings as well as deaths of people in custody at the jail on I Street, which provided the backdrop for the rally.
Speakers offered prayers and urged those gathered to take action to bring about change.
“We’re charged up right now because we’re in the moment,” said Berry Accius, a representative of Voice of the Youth. But unless people work to end institutionalized racism, they will be gathering again to grieve more deaths, he said.
Les Simmons, a board member with faith-based nonprofit Sacramento ACT and assistant pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center, led the crowd in chants of “Enough is enough.” The feeling among many in the community, he said, is that law enforcement officers are not there to protect them.
Speakers said the jail staff apparently was fearful about the rally in front of the building, noting that the public entry doors were locked. Signs posted inside the entryway stated that only staff would be admitted.
Sgt. Tony Turnbull, sheriff’s spokesman, said in an email sent after the rally that sheriff’s officials anticipated the protest would be a peaceful event, but as a precaution the jail suspended social visits until it was over.
Simmons challenged those attending not to let the movement for change become just another hashtag on Twitter. Instead, he encouraged them to take practical steps. As a start, he called for them to join with other like-minded people Sunday by attending one of several churches in the area identifying themselves as “live free” congregations.
The next step, organizers said, is to attend the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday and speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Danielle Williams said the intent is to call for the board to take steps to ensure accountability and transparency in law enforcement.