When people are angry at a public meeting, sometimes the best approach is to sit there and take it rather than trying to lecture people about how to express their outrage.
The column by Marcos Breton captures a lot of my initial thoughts about how Thursday’s meeting played out in Sacramento. As Mr. Breton put it, “It was a bad look at City Hall on Thursday night when a white council member tried to lecture a largely African American audience about the manner in which they were expressing their outrage.”
As Mr. Breton notes, the discussion arose out of the police shooting of Joseph Mann on July 11 where Mr. Mann, African American and mentally ill, “was behaving erratically and holding a knife when he was shot 14 times by two officers who first tried to hit him with their patrol car.”
The key exchange here was Councilmember Steve Hansen stating, “I’m disappointed in the behavior of the audience.” A woman responded, “People are dying in the street and you’re disappointed.”
Process matters of course, but sometimes it is better simply to let people express their frustration – especially people who are unfamiliar with the proper process and protocols.
This is where Mr. Breton nailed them: “Those in attendance Thursday were there in part to express frustration with what they see as a lack of transparency in the city’s response to the shooting. However, the council seemed more interested in adhering to protocol than hearing out the community.”
As Mr. Breton put it: “The night marked a low for a City Council that does not seem to fully grasp the public anger roiling since the Mann shooting. One of the men removed by police put those feelings into words as he was escorted out: “We’re being killed by the same people pushing us out of this room.””
But Marcos Breton goes further, admonishing not to simply “dismiss those words as an exaggeration.”
He writes, “Two Sacramento officers – John Tennis and Randy Lozoya – shot and killed Mann. One of their colleagues escorted people out of council chambers who were raising their voices in protest of that shooting. Other colleagues of Tennis and Lozoya are investigating the Mann shooting, and the leadership of Sacramento’s Police Department has closed ranks around the officers.”
He went further, “Hansen treated audience members at Thursday’s meeting as if they were clueless, but they aren’t. They know a form of collusion when they see it.”
And while the council is looking to draft policy that would handle the next shooting better, “people are still concerned about the Mann shooting. Specifically, they are concerned by the secrecy of the investigation.”
Sacramento police announced last week there were going to begin an internal affairs review of the incident, but, as Mr. Breton points out, “That process is not subject to public review, and neither the city nor police will comment publicly on the case anymore.”
Marcos Breton criticized the soon-to-be outgoing chief for failing to express concern over the shooting of Mr. Mann or praise for those who attempted to deescalate the encounter.
“But he didn’t,” said Mr. Breton. “This is a common mistake made by police departments after controversial shootings. We know from the video there were other cops trying to do the right thing. Dashcam video showed these cops telling Mann they didn’t want to hurt him. Those same cops were recorded saying they didn’t want to force a confrontation.”
At the same time, Officers Tennis and Lozoya, two officers who probably should not have been on the force to begin with, “were recorded trying to hit Mann with their police cruiser. Then they exited their vehicle and ran toward Mann, shooting him 14 times.”
Breton writes, “By saying nothing to distinguish one approach from the other, police leaders cast suspicion on the entire department. It’s a self-inflicted wound. There have been others as well.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Councilmember Jeff Harris said: “I have opinions about (the Mann video), but I don’t share them because we live in a society of due process. Right now, there is a civil case in process, there is a legal case in process, and until those processes are completed, you really won’t know if our process works or not.”
Mr. Breton, however, notes that, while that sounds good, “his comments come off as oblivious to the inherent conflict of interest when cops investigate other cops, and oblivious to the protections that police officers enjoy. Under state law, it’s almost impossible for the public to view disciplinary records or civilian complaints against police officers.”
In short, “We may never know the outcome of the internal investigation into the actions of Tennis and Lozoya. Very few officers are prosecuted for shootings. No one in Sacramento can recall a single time a local law enforcement officer was convicted of illegally using deadly force.”
He concludes, “So when Hansen said ‘We are a city of laws’ during his admonishment of the audience Thursday, it was no surprise that some headed for the exits. They could tell some people on the dais still don’t get it.”
This gets us right back to where we were last week. We need greater police transparency.
Police video has become a major update to transparency policies, but there is a patchwork of guidelines to address the release of police video.
We saw in Charlotte that the police were originally reluctant to release the video, and eventually succumbed to public pressure. Similarly, in Sacramento, the police released the incendiary dashcam video.
With the proliferation of cell phones, dashcams and now police body-worn cameras, the pressure to release video in critical incidents is going to be tremendous.
In Davis, they have attempted to tie the release of video to the Public Records Act. The problem is that this policy would preclude release of video by the police. If a critical incident were to occur, current events show us that this stance is probably untenable.
Eventually, we need the legislature to set a uniform policy across the state, because the current patchwork is untenable and confusing. Moreover, the courts are likely to weigh in and rule in favor of more disclosure.
There are legitimate reasons to withhold video, especially in more routine cases, but the blanket policy is not likely to stand up to further legislation and scrutiny.
Finally, we need statewide guidelines on investigation. Civilian review of police was undermined in 2006 under Copley Press Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego County, which protected the confidentiality of internal affairs records, and the pressure is only mounting now.
We believe there needs to be independent review of all police shootings, and probably in most cases of use of excessive force. Again, a uniform statewide policy would be preferable.
Sacramento is now where so many other cities are – an angry group of citizens and archaic laws unable to deal with the complex modern dilemma.
—David M. Greenwald reporting