This is what happens when an arrogant government official inspires the people to rise up against him.
First, the official tells the public how honorable he is because he says so. Then he recruits allies who posit themselves as “neutral” observers when they are nothing of the kind. Then the government official and their allies try to claim a dubious high ground by arguing his supporters are the righteous majority, even when they are not.
We saw all of this and more in Sacramento last Tuesday.
But here’s what happened next: At an extraordinary hearing at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting, voters who do not support this particular government official, Sheriff Scott Jones, challenged his arrogance and his power.
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That new-found community resolve is the first gift Jones has given us throughout the disgraceful mess of the past months: a movement against him that is fully engaged and informed about the need for accountability and independent oversight of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department – the largest law enforcement agency in Sacramento.
After Jones’ deputies fatally shot Mikel McIntyre, an emotionally disturbed black man on Highway 50 in 2017, the Sheriff lost his cool when the county’s Inspector General – former Sacramento Police Chief, Rick Braziel – questioned whether Jones’ deputies needed to kill him. Jones unilaterally locked Braziel out of his buildings so he couldn’t do his job. And when county Supervisors and members of the public expressed concern over Jones’ actions, the Sheriff doubled down, Donald Trump style.
If Jones had been emotionally mature enough to accept some constructive criticism about his department – or if Jones had objected to the criticism reasonably – he wouldn’t have a public movement against him. But Jones came up small as he always does when his fragile ego is bruised.
“Here is my problem with Jones,” said Adrian Perez, a Latino activist and political commentator based in north Sacramento. ”When his folks asked me to get involved in his election the first time (in 2010), he made an effort to meet me and hear the issues affecting the Latino community. When he decided to support Trump (in 2016) and become an autocrat, he stopped talking to me. The last time I saw him a few months ago, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. That tells me he has something to hide.”
So Perez, like many others, is willing to speak out, willing to spend days at Board of Supervisors’ meetings and willing to stay in this for the long run.
Thank you, sheriff, for hardening our resolve.
The second gift Jones has offered in recent weeks is clarity about what he believes, and who believes it with him.
Jones is not popular in the urban core of the county, where Latinos, Asians, African Americans and other minorities make up two-thirds of the population. But Jones’ popularity grows the farther away you get from the city and the older and whiter the electorate becomes.
Like President Trump, Jones exploits the prejudices and biases of that base.
Jones has singled out County Supervisor Phil Serna, the only Latino on the board, as his personal bogeyman on social media. In a Nov. 5 Facebook post, Jones showed a photo of Serna standing with a group of African American community activists and holding a yellow T-shirt that read, “Black Lives Matter Sacramento.”
“Well folks, Phil Serna is starting to show his true colors,” Jones wrote as he encouraged his supporters to turn out last week by assuring them that they would be safe. “Please don’t be intimidated or bullied by (Serna’s) tactics. We will have PLENTY of security there to make sure EVERYONE’s voice is heard.”
Like Trump, this was Jones’ effort to scare and anger his older white base with images of dark skinned people. But as with Trump, Jones’ tactics were deceptive. The image of Serna that Jones used was taken out of context.
Serna was not posing with Black Lives Matter Sacramento. Serna was posing with supporters of “Reducing African American Child Deaths,” or RAACD. It’s a coalition that has partnered with Serna to try to lower the disproportionally high rate of deaths among African American children in Sacramento County. Last week, we learned that these efforts contributed to a 45 percent drop in black infant deaths in the county.
This is truly a wonderful achievement. But to those who blindly follow Jones, the picture of Serna with black people was cause to be angry. In an Oct. 31 Facebook post, Jones wrote that Serna and Black Lives Matter Sacramento were part of a “liberal takeover” of his department.
At Tuesday’s hearing, some of those who spoke in favor of Jones said that if you didn’t support Jones, you were “anti-law enforcement,” another Trumpian trope. They said that anyone who would question Jones was “out of order.” They said that the true checks and balances for Jones were voters.
But what they meant was that the only voters that really mattered were the voters who supported Jones, voters who looked like them.
Speakers such as Mindi Russell – a law enforcement chaplain – used their positions as allies of Jones to disparage people who dared question the sheriff.
“It’s unfortunate that the ones that come up and speak these falsehoods ... are thinking they are being heard is unfair to the general populaton that do support law enforcement,” Russell said while turning to a packed crowd. “Like the great philosopher Jack Nicholson said, ‘You can’t handle the truth!’”
In more than 30 years as a journalist, this may have been the most egregious and inappropriate comment I’ve ever heard at a public meeting.
Here was a woman whose job is supposed to be about comforting and providing spiritual leadership, who instead chose to be a crony of an elected sheriff. She chose to mock and disregard the concerns of citizens whose only crime was that they didn’t support the behavior of Jones. In the audience were family members of Marshall Miles, a 36-year-old man who died in the custody of sheriff’s deputies last month. So, apparently, the grief of this family is not worthy in the eyes of this “chaplain.”
It was an abuse of her position and it was wrong.
Frankly, if the county allows Russell to continue to be a chaplain after her disgraceful display, it only proves how dysfunctional the county of Sacramento is.
John McGinness, the former Sheriff of Sacramento, also tried to disregard the concerns of citizens while promoting himself as a dispassionate arbiter of justice. When he admitted he was a supporter of Jones, the audience rightly laughed as he spoke.
In the end, the arrogance of power exemplified by Jones, Russell, McGinness and others fell flat. It was rejected by audience members at Tuesday’s hearing for what it was: dog-whistle politics.
“Jones continues to dig his own ditches,” said Tanya Faison, a leader of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. “He not only shows a lack of professionalism. He shows overt confidence in being above the law and the community.”
Jones last gift to the community may be his most significant: real change.
Thankfully, Jones’ over confidence was struck down last week. Supervisors voted to strengthen the guidelines of the Inspector General job. They voted to draft an agreement that would prevent Jones, or any other sheriff, from blocking the IG from reviewing the department’s cases of deputy involved shootings and deaths at the county jail.
Supervisors are now poised to sue Jones in 2019 if he continues to lock the IG out of his building and resist accountability.
On the community side, momentum builds for creating a citizens’ review panel for the department, or floating an ordinance that would make the IG position an official independent county office, as has been done elsewhere.
There never used to be talk of recalling Jones, but now there is because Jones and his allies forgot that all elected officials are accountable to all of the people – not just those who voted for them.
This fight for positive change in the sheriff’s department is real and it’s not going away. It’s stronger, clearer and more organized than it has ever been.
And for that we say thank you, Sheriff Jones, for inspiring it to happen.