By Crescenzo Vellucci
SACRAMENTO – A grassroots activist stole much of the show at the Sacramento District Attorney and Sheriff debate here Friday – sponsored by the Sacramento chapters of National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union.
But after the impromptu outburst by an out-of-town cousin of police shooting victim Stephon Clark, those nearly 200 spectators attending the voter forum at McGeorge School of Law, as well as the candidates for D.A. and Sheriff, had a much clearer picture of what’s happening in the streets.
In fact, it was not the debate it could have been. Incumbent District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert – who did attend a similar debate four years ago and said everything people wanted to hear – refused to attend this time around.
Her excuse initially was that it conflicted with another event, and then when the ACLU and NLG offered to move the debate date, Schubert stopped responding. That is, until the groups held a news conference in front of her office asking her to attend. Then Schubert said she wasn’t attending, that the ACLU was biased in some way, even though the ACLU does not endorse candidates.
But there’s no doubt Schubert is literally like a bird in a cage – she is avoiding public exposure and she not only doesn’t do debates, she didn’t attend community coffees with friendly supervisors either this past month.
It may because Black Lives Matter Sacramento has been targeting her and her office with protests every week, Tuesday through Wednesday, demanding she arrest the two officers who shot at Stephon Clark 20 times – six of eight shots hit Clark in the back – and killed him, even though he only had a cell phone and was in his grandparents’ yard. He was living in the home.
This past week Schubert even had a 10 foot high fence built around her office, making it look more like a prison where she sends people, not a place of business.
Late Sunday, Black Lives Matter national activist Sean King, in Sacramento to endorse Noah Phillips who is challenging his boss Schubert, even commented on it: “I’ve never seen a DA build a chain-link fence around their office.”
Challenger Phillips – seated alone at the forum – said he worked in the major crimes unit, focused on domestic abuse and elder abuse. Bluntly, he admitted his generation have “broken the system. I’m sorry (but) I am here to fix it and make us safe at the same time.”
Philips promised to “find ways to incarcerate people less” and one way was to “divert people with mental health issues to community programs.”
The forum was then interrupted for nearly 10 minutes with Alexander Clark, who said he was a cousin of Stephon Clark, and challenged Phillips and the attending crowd to “stand up for justice,” noting that “MLK Jr. died for this (justice).”
Clark also challenged Phillips, suggesting he’s still “part of the system” that killed his cousin and other people of color in the streets. Clark may have punctuated his statements aimed at Phillips with hardy expletives, but the points were not lost on the sympathetic crowd, and Phillips.
“His (Clark’s) opinion is that of a lot of people…and he’s 100 percent right. I’ve been a part of that system that doesn’t work for everyone,” said Phillips. “Mr. Clark is correct, too” about cops investigating cops after a police shooting.
“Police investigating themselves is inherently problematic,” said Phillips, adding he would invite the state Attorney General to probe police killings, but would also support a “walled off” special unit in the DA’s office to do the same.
In other key proclamations, Phillips said he would (1) modify the police bill of rights regarding misconduct, and would not support Life Without Parole (LWOP) for anyone under the age of 25. Now anyone 21 and over can be sent away for life.
In the Sheriff’s debate, only half of the candidates showed. Incumbent Scott Jones wasn’t there, and challenger Donna Cox cancelled.
That left Brett Daniels, a former Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept. and Citrus Heights City Councilperson, and Milo Fitch, a retired chief deputy with the Sheriff’s Dept. who spent 30 years there, including running the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility near Elk Grove.
Daniels admitted early on that “I am scared of this crowd, but I’m here,” in reference to the missing Jones and Cox. He went on to say that incumbent Jones doesn’t “want an outsider in the department. We need to change that.”
Fitch echoed that sentiment. “People are calling for the sheriff to end sex harassment…I worked outside the good old boy network” in the department, he said.
Both candidates supported the use of body cameras for deputies (City of Sacramento police have them, County deputies do not), with Fitch noting that “we’ve eroded trust…it looks like we’re hiding something.” And while Fitch supposed a civilian oversight committee, Daniels opposed it.
The two candidates had opposite positions regarding the current $4.8 million contract the jail has with ICE to hold suspected illegal immigrants.
“Scott (Jones) has created fear. Immigration is a civil issue, not a criminal one. I would remove that ICE contract,” said Fitch, while Daniels questioned immigration related questions at the jail but said, ultimately, “But in jail we need to know your status.”
Regarding the ever-present homelessness question, Daniels asserted the homeless should be removed from private property but should be allowed to stay on public property because “they have to sleep somewhere.” Fitch wants to set up programs to help the homeless.
Fitch was adamant that “implicit (race) bias” training not just be a one-time thing, but be part of “continuation training.” Daniels agreed, noting “We’re here to serve everyone, not put people in jail.”
In final answers to questions from the public, Daniels admitted ( 1) he was “scared” every time he went out on his 20,000 plus calls; (2) he would reduce the noise of helicopters that residents complain about but would use drones, which might have “privacy” issues; and (3) would “limit” the use of the Stingray (it can monitor nearby cells phones without a warrant) program because of constitutional concerns.
Fitch (1) would consider ending the Stingray program because of “civil liberties concerns,” and that the “Sheriff hides everything; (2) said it was not “practical” to shoot to wound and shoot to kill should be the policy, although he wanted to see “other means to shooting be deployed first; and (3) did not answer a question about regular mental health evaluations of officers.
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