Marcos Bretón

Madness came to Sacramento, and the cops weren’t ready

Anti-fascist protesters confront TV crew at California Capitol

A group of anti-fascist protesters confronted a KCRA television news crew at the Capitol on June 26, 2016. Beware explicit language.
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A group of anti-fascist protesters confronted a KCRA television news crew at the Capitol on June 26, 2016. Beware explicit language.

When the Occupy movement brought widespread property damage to Oakland a few years ago, Sacramento remained orderly because Sac PD was ready.

When homeless protesters pressed and goaded police earlier this year, hoping to spark a confrontation, Sac PD resisted. They kept the peace, even though scores of people illegally camped in front of City Hall for weeks.

The examples of solid police work are numerous, but Sunday was different. Sunday was horrible.

Ten people were injured and five stabbed at the state Capitol during a chaotic melee between a neo-Nazi group and so-called “anti-fascist” protesters.

We’re not used to seeing that scale of violence on Sacramento’s streets because police usually defuse it. But not this time.

It was embarrassing that media outlets around the world were carrying video of thugs attacking each other on the gorgeous Capitol grounds. The savagery captured on cellphone cameras – people beating each other with sticks and clubs – brought to mind a medieval war zone.

In real time, we saw tweets from the Sacramento Fire Department reporting stabbings. Paramedics had to be guarded while attending to the wounded.

What happened? Why was law enforcement so slow to react as tensions grew as hot as the weather Sunday?

No one is getting specific right now, while internal investigations are ongoing; reputations and working relationships are being guarded by the fraternity of law enforcement.

But I would bet money that in an election year, when partisan emotions are running high, what we saw Sunday will not happen again soon. I would bet money that next time, Sac PD will be actively engaged on Capitol grounds though it is the jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol.

I would bet that future demonstrations will see a shared command center between the CHP and Sac PD instead of what we saw Sunday: CHP officers overwhelmed by warring factions.

Both the CHP and Sac PD are defending the way they responded to the bloody clash between 30 or so white supremacists and more than 350 counter protesters, who call themselves Antifa and purport to be a force against oppression and racism.

Witness accounts, however, suggest more could have been done to prevent the violence from happening. They also suggest that city police used tactics that differed from what they employed at previous rallies.

What we saw Sunday reflected the madness gripping political discourse in our nation and world.

Sac PD had more than 100 officers at the scene, most on the perimeter. The officers entered the grounds once the violence went full tilt. But as The Bee’s Sam Stanton and Anita Chabria reported, “for much of the afternoon, police stayed on the edges of the event, standing in the shade near the sidewalks fronting L and 10th streets as the two sides threatened each other with sticks, tossed fireworks and charged at each other.”

The CHP won’t say how many officers it deployed, other than it was more than usual.

“Between the two agencies, we had something that you typically wouldn’t see here on a Sunday,” Officer George Granada, a CHP spokesman, told Bee reporters. “There was preparation made ahead of time. Now, whether it was sufficient remains to be determined.”

Was it sufficient? The answer is clearly no. For the good of the community, Sac PD and CHP need to break down exactly what went wrong on Sunday because there will be more of the same this year. Anger and political intolerance have marked the presidential campaign. And it’s not just an American phenomenon. Europe is roiling amid deep divisions that have bred frightening hostility.

The neo-Nazi Traditionalist Working Party, whose rally at the west steps of the Capitol came under attack, was trying to make a political point. “The group and its California affiliate, Golden State Skinheads, sent about 30 people to speak up for Donald Trump supporters who have been denied their freedom of speech (while supporting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee),” spokesman Matt Parrott told The Bee.

“The purpose of the protest was actually a reaction around the Donald Trump rallies where working-class white Americans were trying to peacefully organize, not on racial terms,” he said. “We wanted to have a march to show we will not back down in the face of radical leftists, who threatened violence beforehand.”

Antifa, “a coalition of groups opposed to the neo-Nazi movement” – issued a call on the web for protesters to show up and “smash fascism,” according to The Bee.

One video from Sunday captured a man being clubbed on the side of his head. He likely never saw the blow coming. He fell to the ground, motionless, after being struck. Sticks, clubs and knives weren’t the only weapons around on Sunday. A loaded handgun was found on the scene.

The violence was a violation of freedom of speech, certainly, but there was a deeper violation – a disregard for the sanctity of life.

What we saw Sunday reflected the madness gripping political discourse in our nation and world. It’s intolerance of one group meeting the intolerance of another with precious few caring or even thinking about the lives on the other end of their weapons.

Law enforcement wasn’t ready this time, but they have to be next time. In a climate where life isn’t valued, life will be lost.

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