Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones should pick up the phone and thank Capt. Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department for saving him.
Leong stopped two young men, carrying placards bearing the image of a deputy killed on Monday, from confronting Black Lives Matter protesters at a demonstration in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon.
Leong calmly blocked the path of the young men as they moved toward BLM protesters shutting down J Street in front of the Sacramento Convention Center. Leong and other Sacramento city cops kept the young men — and other pro-law enforcement demonstrators — from getting physical with BLM demonstrators outside the annual conference of the California Peace Officers Association.
If this protest had boiled over — if there had been violence, blood, mass arrests — all who live and work in Sacramento could rightly look in Jones’ direction and ask: What were you thinking?
On Monday, while speaking at a news conference to report the death of one of his officers, Jones encouraged people who support law enforcement to go to the convention center, where they were sure to find BLM protesters Tuesday, six months after the shooting of Stephon Clark.
“We have a planned protest tomorrow at a statewide law enforcement conference down in Sacramento,” Jones said. “I know people have this overwhelming urge to do what they can. ... One of the things you can do is go down there. Go down to the convention center tomorrow between 11 and 1 and show your support for law enforcement.”
What did Jones think was going to happen? People were already emotional about the shooting death of Deputy Mark Stasyuk, who was only 27. He was gunned down Monday during a routine service call in Rancho Cordova.
But then you choose the solemn moment of mourning the death of an officer to make a political statement wrapped in a call to action? And people listened. Groups of mostly older folks — some carrying American flags, two wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats similar to those worn by President Donald Trump — came to support law enforcement and yell at BLM.
Joining BLM were clergy, about as many white folks as African Americans and a diverse array of supporters. Joining the pro-law enforcement side were older white folks, and some younger ones. I didn’t stay for the whole event, but I was there when it was most tense, and that’s what I saw.
This clash of ideological sides came close to blowing up.
By the time Leong was helping to keep the peace, Jones’ office had put out a clarification on his comments: “Sheriff Jones never called for a counterprotest — which would encourage responding persons to protest or address the planned protest directly — but rather gave the community an outlet for their grief and support where over a hundred Sheriff’s Department personnel and law enforcement from around the state will be gathered to learn better ways to police their communities.”
Go back and re-read what Jones said on Monday and decide for yourself where he was coming from. He was removing one foot from his mouth by inserting another.
An “outlet’ for grief? If you want to give a grieving public an outlet, you plan a vigil. You don’t encourage them to go to a protest where people who have a polar opposite view of law enforcement are shutting down a street.
You mix BLM with a law enforcement convention, the six-month mark of the killing of Clark by Sacramento police, the Monday killing of Stasyuk — and then pile on a call-to-action by Jones on top of that, what do you have?
A potential disaster that was handled through some very professional policing.
“Emotions were high for many reasons and the last thing we wanted was for this to get out of hand,” said Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn. “... People get right in the officers faces. It’s trying to keep your cool but they do. I could not be more proud of our officers.”
Sacramento police would not directly address Jones’ comments. But did Jones make their jobs harder on Tuesday? Yes, he did. It’s not what a law enforcement leader is supposed to do, even when he is grieving the death of a deputy.
In moments like those, leaders seek to calm the waters. Jones did the opposite. Shame on him.