As cops strapped on riot gear and a helicopter buzzed above the Sacramento Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon, Linda Whiteshirt sat quietly on a bench a few feet from the fray and held fast to her homemade sign decorated with hand-drawn hearts.
“Stop the hate, all of us,” it read. “Police officers are not all bad. We all deserve to live and be happy. Everyone’s life is a gift, no matter what label is carried.” Meanwhile, a line of California Highway Patrol officers rode by on horseback and a steady thumping of what sounded like a war drum filled the air.
“Everyone is so angry,” the petite black woman said, shaking her head in sadness. “Just so angry.”
Indeed, it took less than an hour for the protest and counter-protest at the COPSWEST Training and Expo to devolve into a standoff on J Street. On one side, Blue Lives Matter supporters stood mostly in cold, stone-faced silence, their faces periodically dripping with disdain. On the other side, Black Lives Matter activists screamed in rage and shoved themselves into makeshift coffins to make their point.
One could be forgiven for concluding, after Tuesday, that this is just the way it is and always will be. You either support law enforcement or you support people of color. That there is no both — or no “all of us,” as Whiteshirt insists there should be.
But that conclusion would be wrong. As a community, we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
We can mourn Mark Stasyuk, the 27-year-old Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who was killed Monday while responding to a call at a Pep Boys store in Rancho Cordova, while also criticizing deputies for recklessly gunning down Mikel McIntyre along Highway 50 in the same city last year.
We can be disgusted with Anton Lemon Paris, a black man accused of shooting Stasyuk, Deputy Julie Robertson and a bystander, while also calling out Sheriff Scott Jones for using his press conference about the shooting to encourage the counter-protest at the COPSWEST convention. And we certainly can demand that Jones stop blocking Inspector General Rick Braziel from doing his job and finally commit to true independent oversight of his department.
We can complain about Sacramento police shooting first and asking questions later in neighborhoods known for gun violence, such as Meadowview where an unarmed Stephon Clark was killed in his grandparents’ backyard in March, while also mourning 3-year-old Azalya Anderson, who was taken off life support Monday after she was hit by a stray bullet while sitting her living room a few miles away.
We can applaud Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn for quickly releasing video footage from controversial officer-involved shootings, while also being furious that the body camera of the SWAT officer who shot Darell Richards, a black teenager who was hiding in a Curtis Park backyard with a pellet gun, was turned off.
We can call out wrongdoing when we see it, and that has nothing to do with who does and does not wear a uniform. And although this will never be the popular narrative for Tuesday’s dueling protests, it was happening.
On one side of J Street, I had a lengthy conversation with a white man named Steve, who said his brother was in law enforcement and was killed by an unarmed black man. While he doesn’t believe cops are racist or deliberately targeting people of color, he also acknowledged that maybe the other side has some valid concerns and that peaceful protest is the right way to raise public awareness.
On the other side of J Street, I spoke to a black woman named Allegra. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she told me about the mother and grandmother of Richards wailing in grief at a vigil put together by Black Lives Matter. And then, almost in the same breath, she said: “I feel very, very sorry for the family” of Stasyuk.
“I have no ill will toward the police. I just want to see policy changed to where my people are not being killed anymore,” Allegra said. “We cannot continue as a society with this us versus them mentality.”
Maybe Whiteshirt was onto something.
Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith.