By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Social justice leaders and civil rights lawyers didn’t try to put a positive spin on the state of police shootings here at a “State of Civil Rights” in Sacramento panel, sponsored by the Sacramento Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild held at McGeorge School of Law this past week.
After the shooting death of Stephon Clark a year ago, and dramatic protests in the aftermath, including the shutdown of NBA games at Golden One Arena and the takeover of Interstate 5 and city streets, there was no real reason to sugarcoat the truth.
Speakers, one by one and in group consensus, said the state of civil rights in Sacramento was dismal.
“When the city Sacramento witness(ed) the unjust shooting and death of a young Black man…and too many others…we fight back…from passionate community organizers to powerful members of the clergy to the diligence of our civil rights attorneys to dedicated (NLG) legal observers in green hats, we are all there,” said NLG Sacramento president Elizabeth Kim, who opened the panel discussion.
The NLG is helping to find pro bono lawyers for activists arrested in social justice protests, and aiding in efforts to file civil rights lawsuits.
“They can try to twist the narrative, they can try to infringe on our First Amendment rights, they can try to scare us. But we will continue to show up – in courtrooms, at the jail house, every city council meeting, every protest,” Kim added.
Berry Accius, co-founder of Voice of the Youth in Sacramento, didn’t mince words, either, about the state of civil rights in the capital city.
“We’re at risk at all times. It’s bullshit that we’ve moved the needle. The system of white supremacy never dies. This goes back to our ancestors. (And) you’ve seen what happens…Black people pull away from the system. We need to make folks uncomfortable, or we’ll be right back here again.
“We’re behind enemy lines (but) we need to attack the law and attack policies. We know the letter of the law protects the police, so we need to change the laws. You saw how the city reacted (to criticisms of the police who killed Stephon Clark.) You can’t build democracy behind closed doors (at City Hall), even if we speak for two minutes,” Accius said.
And, Jamier Sale, representing ACT and an organizer with ANSWER Coalition and other organizations, was blunt as well.
“We are victims of genocide. They tear gas us here, in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia. We are small and dedicated. The struggle is not going to end tomorrow,” Sale predicted, adding that “attacks from the right (are) supported by our racist Cheeto president,” Sale said.
“We are seeing a rise in counter protestors from the right at union, anti-war, immigration and other protests. They’re fascists,” he said, noting that “South Sac Iraq” is part of the “militarization of our society” with “shrapnel hitting us (from) the police world.”
Les Simmons, senior pastor at South Sacramento Christian Center, said that the 84 arrests of clergy, activists, news reporters and legal observers at a Stephon Clark peaceful march on March 4 in East Sacramento reminded him of the Selma Bridge march and beatings of civil rights demonstrators on March 7, 1960.
“I’m reliving another year, March of 1960, but now in 2019 on another (Sacramento) bridge when I was arrested with 83 other people of shared culture and belief. I looked at the officers and 99 percent were white faces that don’t represent Sacramento,” said Simmons.
“We can do better as a city and as a people. We want something different (than) in-custody and shooting deaths. Let (our) people live after an encounter with law enforcement. We don’t get permits…we can’t be part of the counterfeit system. The blood of our dead brothers calls out for justice,” he added.
Eddie Carmona, legislative director of PICO California, echoed those sentiments, noting “We’re dealing with real trauma. Police are running wild, killing our folks (and) it’s ripped off the scab.” Carmona said he supports new state legislation to regulate police, but admitted a measure regarding use of force “doesn’t do everything.”
Tanya Faison, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, was direct in her response. She was arrested earlier in the day silently holding a sign about the killing of Black people in Sacramento.
“They are tired of us. They (police) arrest us violently. These are our challenges,” she said, although acknowledging that “small wins” are a “form of justice…people need to do something to fix the problem,” because “riot is the language of the unheard.”
Khalil Ferguson, a Sacramento State graduate at the age of 18 and local organizer, spoke of the legislative struggle in the civil rights movement.
“Moderate Democrats get in the way and are impeding us,” he said about the frustration of passing a current measure (AB 392), which would moderate the use of force by law enforcement by mandating police use lethal force only when necessary, not as a first choice.
“I am not sure if people know that from a Black perspective (police) are an offshoot of the slave patrol,” he said. “Abolishing the police is not realistic, although we want to police ourselves and get rid of the police…the new laws are good, but there are no real repercussions (to police) when they violate them,” he added.
Law professor Mark T. Harris focused on the need for “everyone” to join the civil rights fight, noting, “Everybody needs to get in where they fit in.”
Another civil rights attorney, Mark Merin of Sacramento, emphasized that the legal community should not lead but be a tool that the civil rights movement uses to make change.
“Very strident voices are what the legal community needs to service. We need to advance the movement’s perceptions – we are not the leaders. We need to change the laws,” said Merin, whose civil rights firm is filing claims for the 84 arrested unlawfully March 4 as a precursor to a federal class action civil rights lawsuit.
Merin mused that, in a way, “Trump is our friend. He is bringing to the surface things that were hidden. We should be opening arms, instead of closing doors. There are constitutional challenges in the face of outrageous police profiling. If you are arrested we’ll represent you,” Merin promised.