Removing police from responding to certain 911 calls, a new cop watchdog, changes to when officers can use deadly force — these are some of the reforms the city of Sacramento passed this week. But many advocates for racial justice say it's not nearly enough.
City Council voted on Wednesday to approve Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s most recent plan for police reform, which includes the creation of Inspector General to investigate police use-of-force and misconduct, and a separate office to handle 911 calls that don’t have anything to do with crimes.
Steinberg has mentioned on several occasions his two proposals are just the beginning of greater action.
“This is not the end of the discussion or even the middle,” he said during the Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s never too early to make change, but it’s also never too late. And what we are presenting here tonight are the beginnings of systemic reform.”
But advocates say the mayor and council’s reforms don’t come close to meeting their demands.
Common themes have emerged from demonstrators and activists. Many feel that, two years after the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, not enough change has been made in Sacramento to ensure it won’t happen again.
“It’s almost like a slap in the face to people who have been on the ground and screaming since Joseph Mann was murdered,” said Sonia Lewis with the Liberation Collective for Black Sacramento. “Since then, we had Stephon Clark, and we asked for very similar things then. And this City Council has sat and looked at Black faces and have tried to ignore us and silence us and erase us.”
Demonstrators have uniformly asked for things like a re-thinking of how the city spends its Measure U sales tax revenue, so that money can go back toward its originally intended purpose of paying for programs in underserved communities.
They’ve also asked for the city to reduce its overall police budget by 30%, and to re-route that money to education and health care.
Many have also called for more simple and direct steps, like removing the officers who killed Clark in 2018 and not giving the police this year’s union-negotiated pay raise.
Julius Thibodeaux, a program manager with Advance Peace — a group that works with youth who are at risk for getting involved in gang violence — said the real gap between underserved communities and policing is a lack of relationships.
“What I see is two extremes. I see total unfamiliarity and over-familiarity, but I don’t see that balance in the middle of just being familiar with the community that you’re policing,” he said.
Thibodeaux continued: “If you and I are strangers, and one of us is already in fight-or-flight mode, the chances of a stranger coming to de-escalate a situation is much higher than someone who’s familiar, who can call you by your name or make a reference to a family member they know you care about.”
The mission of Advance Peace, a program originally started in Richmond that has been operating in Sacramento since 2018, is to give young people tools to de-escalate tense situations on their own without police intervention.
On Wednesday, City Council discussed providing more funding for Advance Peace to decrease the prevalence of gang violence in Sacramento. But some expressed concern that the Council’s current focus on gang violence was separate to what demonstrators have been asking for in regards to police brutality and reform.
For Lewis, mending the damaged relationship between police and underserved communities, and in particular Black residents, could be simple.
“What we’re asking is that you acknowledge that there’s pain and oppression that has come from the police department and the city under his [Steinberg’s] tenure as mayor,” she said.
She specifically cited the fact that the two police officers who shot Clark in 2018 are still working for the Sacramento Police Department. “The easiest thing, the low-hanging fruit, is firing officers Terrence Mercadel and Jared Robinet, and then we can talk about going forward.”
In 2019, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra both said that the officers would not be charged with a crime in the fatal shooting of Clark, decisions that sparked demonstrations across the city.
Steinberg has said he will not be defunding the police department, but that he hopes his two reforms could address some concerns and begin to rebuild trust.
“The defund movement is a lot of things. I don’t agree with it fundamentally, but I do agree that we need to shift tens of millions of dollars from the police and the fire department to other responses to 911 calls,” he said.
Going forward, the council members say they’re going to work more closely with the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission which makes policy recommendations for the city’s police department.
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