On Tuesday, January 19th, the Sacramento Police Department gave a lengthy presentation at City Hall on the methods they were using to respond to protests. Elected officials asked for the report after weeks of demonstrations and clashes between leftist anti-fascist groups and right-wing extremist supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The presentation included a prerecorded video from the City Chief of Police, Daniel Hahn, arguing that both groups were committing violent acts not protected by the constitution.
According to Chief Hahn, “These acts of violence and property damage are inflicting additional unnecessary harm upon our community… with no regard for those caught in the middle—…our Sacramento police officers.”
In total, the Sacramento Police Department spent over 600,000 dollars using over 7,000 hours of overtime to contain the protests. Eleven officers were injured.
Reaction to the presentation was mixed, with different members of City Council striking starkly different tones. The most outspoken comments came from newly-elected Councilmembers Sean Loloee and Katie Valenzuela.
Valenzuela, who represents the downtown core, Midtown, and Land Park, took issue with the comparison the video made of BLM protestors to white supremacists and Proud Boys, saying, “these are not apples to apples.” She also emphasized that although we may not have ever had negative experiences with the police, we should still be willing to investigate community complaints against them.
Member Valenzuela ended her comments by “going a bit rogue” and playing a 20-minute-long video (to the audible consternation of Councilmember Schenirer) from Black Zebra Productions, a local upstart news organization who made waves for their live coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer. The video was a compilation of interactions BLM protestors had with police over the summer.
Councilmember Loloee, who represents Del Paso Heights, criticized members of both groups equally, saying, “Either group creates a danger for residents, for the people that want to enjoy our city… I find both [to be] domestic terrorist groups.”
He further empathized with police officers, pointing out that they were the very group the City Council turned to when faced with the threat of riots like the one that happened in DC on January 6th. Finally, he stated that although it is important to view all sides of a story, he’s “been watching the [Black Zebra] uploads and there’s an agenda behind” them.
In addition to the comments from City Councilmembers, over 30 people called into the meeting to make a 2-minute public comment. These comments were almost entirely critical of the presentation given by police. Many took issue with the way the presentation from SacPD was framed, accusing it of being biased.
One lawyer, who claimed to have multiple clients who felt surveilled by SacPD for attending BLM protests, said, “the presentation tonight narrowly focused on who [police] call ‘Antifa’.” She explained this was part of a pattern of targeting BLM activists over white supremacists.
There was one thing all Councilmembers seemed to agree on, however, which was the need for further discussion on the topic. They agreed (although not formally) to go through, as Mayor Steinberg put it, a “truth reconciliation process.”
This process would be spearheaded by Dr. LaTesha Watson, the newly hired head of the Sacramento Office of Public Safety and Accountability, who would investigate and put together a report, public forum, or other method of building trust, which would be able to guide city policy. The details for this are still murky and have yet to be released, but show promise towards continued discussion amongst city policymakers around police brutality and what role the police should play in our city.