Hundreds march through Sacramento to protest police killings of black men

Riding a wave of national unrest, a social media call by two south Sacramento teenagers and their Facebook friend drew at least 300 people to downtown Sacramento on Monday to protest police brutality.

Activists met at Crocker Park at Third and O streets, where many painted their hands red to “symbolize all the blood that has been shed,” said 18-year-old organizer Brianna Cormier. They headed to the state Capitol, walking silently to the Capitol steps.

The event came during a period of upheaval over the sniper shooting of five police officers in Dallas and the killings of two African American men by law enforcement last week. Those deaths have sparked protests across the country and in Europe. Many are under the banner of Black Lives Matter, but others, like Monday’s, are seemingly organic uprisings.

Locally, at least five protests have occurred in the last week, including daily since Thursday. Others are planned, such as a “takeover” of Tuesday morning’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting and a call for 200 black men to attend the Sacramento City Council meeting later in the day.

At the Monday march, which wasn’t affiliated with the local Black Lives Matter group, Cormier said she asked participants to walk in silence because “there’s nothing we can say that hasn’t already been said.”

Many in attendance said they had not been politically active before the rally, but felt compelled to act by recent events.

“I’ve never done this before in my life,” said Ronald Stevens, 48, an Elk Grove chef. “After (I) saw the killings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, it was just too much.”

Larricka Harrison, an 18-year-old USC student from Natomas, said that coverage of other protests in “different neighborhoods, different cities and different states,” inspired her to attend, though she has only been at one other rally on her college campus.

“Right now, media attention is on Black Lives Matter,” said her friend, 19-year-old Oluchi Okwu. Okwu said she wanted to help the movement “make the most of the moment.”

Others said that joining the rally was a way to express emotion.

Ebony Foy said she came because she didn’t know what else was left to do.

“I’m a mother of two who is afraid for her two little boys,” said Foy, who is African American. “The red on my hands means stop.”

The Sacramento Police Department and California Highway Patrol had a large presence Monday, including CHP officers on the roof of the Capitol. Sacramento police Lt. Jason Bassett told the crowd at Crocker Park that officers would accompany them through downtown Sacramento to ensure they arrived safely.

“What I am in support of is innocent until proven guilty and justice for everybody, as I think all police officers are,” Bassett said. “There has to be change in our country; we just need dialogue. Two sides talking to each other.”

Toward the end of the protest on the Capitol’s west steps, demonstrators gave police and CHP officers a round of applause.

Organizers from activist groups throughout Sacramento said it was not just Monday’s rally that has drawn new protesters. They’ve seen greater numbers since a North Natomas preacher gained national media attention for speaking in favor of the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last month.

More than 500 protesters turned out at his Natomas church the following Sunday. But the shootings in recent days may have been a tipping point for many, said Black Lives Matter activist Donielle Prince.

“The turnout is … clearly impacted by the events this week,” she said. “There were a lot of new people.”

Her group held a protest on Saturday outside the headquarters of Sheriff Scott Jones’ congressional campaign office to demand release of video and other information related to the shooting death of Carmichael resident Adrienne Jamarr Ludd by sheriff’s deputies in October. She said Black Lives Matter has received hundreds of emails asking how to join, and a meeting scheduled for next Saturday has drawn interest from nearly 1,000 people.

“It’s just overwhelming,” Prince said. “People are feeling like they want to get involved.”

That was the case for Monday’s event. The three women who planned the event had little or no previous experience with political activism.

“This was my first time physically organizing a protest,” said Cormier, a recent graduate of Valley High School who said the shooting of Alton Sterling by police in Baton Rouge, La., pushed her to act.

“I’m woken,” she said. “As long as I am awake, I will help Sacramento be woke.”

She connected with another student, Jamejha Hall after Hall posted on Facebook. The two connected with another of Hall’s social media contacts and picked a location for the rally and started the hashtag #standing4blacklives.

By Monday afternoon, 1,300 people had expressed interest in attending.

“I was like, whoa! They listened to us,” Cormier said. “That was more than I could have imagined.”

Emily King, Stephen Magagnini and Sam Stanton contributed to this report.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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