By Angel Cabral and Ty Lyman
Special to the Vanguard
SACRAMENTO REGION – Hundreds of demonstrators opposed to police violence and the back-shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, WI, a week ago, participated in a series of protests Thursday through the weekend in Sacramento, Placerville, Lincoln and the surrounding area.
They were met by hundreds of law enforcement personnel, from Sacramento police, California Highway Patrol, Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept, Citrus Heights police and other units from as far south as Lathrop and Hanford.
They were also confronted in most all of the protests by dozens of loud and aggressive pro-Trump and pro-police counter protestors.
In all, as of Sunday, the Vanguard has learned that at least seven people were arrested in Sacramento – and while most have been released on simple misdemeanor counts with zero bail, two are being held with no bail until a hearing Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court.
According to court information, the bail would normally be only about $10,000 for one of those being held and that would normally be waived per the COVID-19 orders to keep jails emptied. However, a little used penal code section is keeping them in jail – officials are suggesting the defendants could be a public safety threat, although in one case the person is charged only with having a “dirk or dagger” on their person.
In Sacramento there were repeated reports, according to the National Lawyers Guild Sacramento Chapter, that police were challenging protestors with loaded weapons, pushing them to the ground, and refusing to identify themselves as required by state law. The NLG monitors police actions at protests nationwide.
There were an estimated 150-200 demonstrators on Sacramento streets each night, Thursday through Saturday, amid heavy police presence, and a very small “proud boy” presence. Vanguard staff said they saw one truck and one individual with a sword, who confronted a protestor and nearly got into a physical confrontation before being maced.
There was light damage to government buildings, including graffiti or broken windows at the District Attorney office, Sheriff’s Dept. and City Hall..
The crowd was very strict with cameras, and Vanguard photographers were repeatedly approached by a man with an umbrella, so that photos could not be taken of demonstrators.
Police were visibly irritated and ready for confrontation, as they were banging their shields with nightsticks and occasionally yelling at protestors. A high degree of militarization was on display.
The Vanguard saw an officer taking aim at protestors with a rubber bullet weapon at a time when no others were doing so. The police seemed more ready for confrontation than the protestors. Overall, the marches were peaceful, and the leaders helped guide the crowd while avoiding confrontation.
Legal observers from NLG also reported having police put weapons in their faces, even though legal observers from NLG wear bright green hats to identify them as non-participants like the press.
In Placerville Friday afternoon the tension seemed to be mounting steadily towards a crescendo of conflicting philosophies and political ideologies, as supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and their boisterous, conservative rivals filled opposite sides of Main Street.
Roughly 200 people gathered around and across from the El Dorado County Courthouse, monitored closely by 15 or so police officers on foot, many of them without masks, with more stationed discreetly in parking lots awaiting orders.
It should be noted that a majority of the officers seemed much more comfortable on the side of the street which was occupied by the right-wing counter protestors – they were often seen making amicable small talk and shaking hands.
The officers positioned by BLM took a much more serious and authoritative approach than with the counter protestors.
The gathering was organized by Rural Resistance Placerville, a progressive community collective, which supports and coordinates mutual aid efforts in the area with the intention of eliminating systemic oppression, while fostering social justice.
Although fairly new to the sociopolitical activism scene, RRP was able to summon an impressive amount of support and solidarity from some locals, but mostly from individuals residing in the surrounding areas of El Dorado County, as well as residents of the Bay Area and even Portland.
The primary purpose for this gathering was to argue in favor of removing the noose and hangman imagery from the city’s businesses, memorabilia, and town square.
Placerville’s official city nickname is “Hangtown,” a name which, according to city officials and counter-protestors, originates from its history as a lawless town overrun by bandits, so referencing the frequent hangings that would occur there. One can actually still visit and see the old hanging platform they used for this purpose.
This morbid history carries with it a fetishization of nooses, and you can easily spot these hanging from storefronts, trees, and on the front of commemorative t-shirts and baseball caps donned by the locals. The RRP protestors claimed that no matter the historical connotation or context, the image of a noose is problematic and insensitive, and should not be glorified, while the counter protesters claimed that to ban the image would be to strip their town of its unique historical identity.
Although the program for the afternoon started off without much backlash or interruption from the few, mostly elderly, counter protesters who situated themselves on the outskirts of the rally, the size and anger of this group grew as the protest progressed.
While a recording of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech was being played through speakers in honor of its 57th anniversary, monstrous pickup trucks with thunderous engines and black smoke erupting from their exhaust pipes, brandishing large Trump banners and colonial flags began making multiple trips up and down the street in an effort to drown out the protest.
The paradigm for the protest had shifted with the arrival of these new counter protesters, and they soon began to succeed in their quest for provocation. A couple of protestors got into verbal spats with men giving Nazi salutes, which nearly escalated to physical confrontation until the intervention of law
No arrests were made on either side, and no one seemed unfairly targeted by police, though the readiness of law enforcement to shake hands with people giving Nazi salutes was disconcerting to protestors.
Overall, the protest dispersed peacefully once the program reached its conclusion, and BLM protestors were given security chaperones to their vehicles, while the counter protesters lingered about, heading to various bars and restaurants on the main street.
As these reporters drove away, we attempted to take a picture of “Willie,” a mannequin hanging from a tree who’s considered a sort of town mascot here, but we were quickly accosted and stopped by a few locals who weren’t too keen on us documenting this particular local attraction.
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