By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – A trial set for Wednesday of Black Lives Matter allies for allegedly trespassing at Sacramento City Hall last June in a demonstration protesting police killing of Black residents has been cancelled after the City dismissed all charges “in the interest of justice.”
Last June, a coalition of organizations staged an eight-day long series of actions referred to as “8 Days-8 Shots,” in response to the eight bullets that killed Stephon Clark in March of 2018. On June 21 at City Hall, eight protestors engaged in a sit-in. They were arrested, cited for misdemeanor trespassing, and released.
The traffic court trial – before a judge only after the City charged the activists with an infraction rather than the misdemeanor they were arrested on last June 21 – was expected to be intriguing because activists, representing themselves, were planning to subpoena several dozen police officers and their body cameras.
But, the initial charging by the City revealed what may be a low-key strategy by the City and County of Sacramento to deal with protesting social justice activists.
While the five BLM activists are now free – 3 others arrested in June were already off the hook after the City “lost” their paperwork – the decision to challenge the activists by pressing charges originally sends a clear signal the City will make life difficult for those wishing to express their views.
The activists spent more than six months waiting to see what the City would do and then planning to present their own defense after the charges were reduced to the infraction. If charges had remained misdemeanors, the activists would have access to free lawyers and a jury trial. Infractions, still criminal, don’t allow for those constitutional rights.
And, quietly, the County of Sacramento is still pursuing in Superior Court at least four BLM activists arrested at different peaceful protests over the past year over the police killing of Stephon Clark. All are in different stages of pre-trial, but all have been made to come to court repeatedly over many months, causing them to lose time at work and school.
Rather than dissuade activists, however, the cancelled trial appears to have solidified the determination of the activists, who responded today to the City Attorney’s letter that said, “As the agency prosecuting the above-captioned matter, the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office respectfully requests that the Court dismiss this matter in the interests(sic) of justice.”
Noted the activists: “If the city of Sacramento is truly interested in Justice, that must include justice for those whose lives have been taken or forever changed by police terror. In light of our recently dropped charges, we want to particularly draw attention to our comrades who continue to be tormented by the courts for their roles in peaceful protests simply, presumably, because they are Black.”
“The District Attorney declined to file these charges (as misdemeanors). Likely under the direction of mayor Darrell Steinberg (who routinely discriminates against Black Lives Sacramento and their allies), the City Attorney filed an infraction for trespassing, rather than the original misdemeanor. Strange…but it makes sense when you realize that defendants of infraction charges have no access to free counsel,” the group said, adding:
“The sole reason for our participation in the 8 Days-8 Shots action was to get justice – justice for Stephon Clark, justice for Brandon Smith, justice for Darell Richards, justice for Marshall Miles, and now justice for the Macon family who has been targeted and followed by law enforcement ever since the 8 Days-8 Shots series of actions were held — it is an ironically peculiar choice of words for the City Attorney to request the dismissal of our charges “in the interest of justice.”
The group cited the arrest in April of a Black trans woman at a peaceful protest behind the District Attorney’s office, noting, “As she attempted to comply with their order to disperse, police brutally arrested and detained her, then further dehumanized and endangered her by placing her in the men’s jail. She and another queer Black woman arrested during the protest, were released later that night.”
The other woman’s charges were dismissed when video showed she did not resist, but the first activist still is winding through the court system, facing multiple misdemeanor counts of refusing to disperse during a riot and resisting arrest.
“Above all, we demand that law enforcement stops targeting, harassing, and demeaning trans individuals,” said the group, who cited an incident in August at the DA protests – activists are asking the DA to charge the officers who killed Clark with murder – when “Sac PD sent a gang unit out to agitate the demonstrators.”
Two activists were arrested (for not standing on the sidewalk). Charges against the white activist were not filed, but the Black activists has been forced to come back to court repeatedly even though the DA has not officially filed charges.
And, according to protestors, the white activist was treated gently but the Black activist “sustained multiple bruises and a gash near his collarbone, the result of being thrown into a pole that had a sharp metal sign during the overly hostile arrest.”
The BLM protestors said in their letter that “If the City of Sacramento was truly interested in justice, the war on Black people would not exist in this city, and listed a series of “in the interest of justice” steps the City and County could take, including:
– Drop the charges against three anti-fascist demonstrators. At a melee June 26, 2016, when neo-Nazi gangs at the Capitol injured at least seven anti-fascists demonstrators with knives, clubs and spears, only one neo-Nazi faces trial. But three anti-fascists were arrested although no neo-Nazis were sent to the hospital.
– Dismiss charges against all BLM of Sacramento peaceful demonstrators now awaiting trial.
– End the practice of prosecuting activists, “especially those who are Black, trans, queer, or marginalized in any other fashion. It is our right to speak up, protest, and demand justice. It is our right to be in the streets.”
– “File charges against officers who brutalize and kill Black people. She would press charges against those who target the mentally ill and/or unhoused. She would put an end to murder at the hands of the police, period.”
– The police “should stop brutalizing and killing Black people.”