By Catherine Pentoney and Jose Medina
SACRAMENTO – While thousands of national guard troops, local and state police are protecting the nation’s capital and capital buildings in Sacramento and other states from pro-Trump white supremacists, the Sacramento City Council Tuesday waited until the late hours of their meeting to discuss the threat here, deciding instead to talk about re-zoning matters.
Community activists, lawyers and other residents stuck around, though, to charge that Sacramento Police officers have shown bias in favor of white supremacists and Trump supporters in the streets, and suggested city police officers should be investigated to see if they are members of those right wing groups.
The topic for discussion was police conduct – which many community members have decried as misconduct during the near weekly pro-Trump gatherings at the Capitol that have occurred since the Presidential election.
In the end, after hearing public comments on the community’s views and experiences with the police, Councilmember Katie Valenzuela stated that “hearing this from the community is disturbing and deserves a full follow up.”
Member Valenzuela acknowledged the involvement of Antifa and Proud Boys at recent protests in Sacramento and wanted to make sure that the council had it clear that “these are two different groups, one group actively counters white supremacy and fascism.”
In an effort to show the community that the council is hearing both sides she showed the council about 15 minutes of footage from Black Zebra Productions that showed the tactics police used against BLM and Antifa protesters during the George Floyd protests and recent protests in Sacramento.
After being shown the videos Mayor Steinberg stated, “I’m not sure if we’ll resolve any of these issues unless we investigate this in an independent way.”
The lack of priority dedicated by council to this topic in its scheduling was reflected overall in the meeting. Sacramento Police Chief Hahn and Deputy Chief of Police Kathy Lester presented for an hour and a half collectively, while community members were allotted only the standard two minutes per call at the end of the presentations.
Sacramento Police presented various selective bodycam footage of Proud Boy versus “Antifa” interactions at and around the State Capitol from over the past few months. A significant amount of Deputy Chief Lester’s presentation was focused on discussions of “Antifa,” seemingly attempting to villainize the group, including for their choice of attire.
A community caller named Victor stated: “the reason why people wear teargas masks to the protests is because they have been shot with teargas and bullets that have been authorized by this council, that they have been teargassed over and over again for going out to peaceful protests – is the reason they show up ready and prepared to exercise their first amendment right.”
The group commonly labeled Antifa’s attire often includes protective vests, all-black unidentifiable clothing, and gas masks. Community callers later pointed out such attire is now worn by this group in response to frequent use of Bear Mace against them by members of the Proud Boys, and before that, in response to the frequent deployment of tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors by local Law Enforcement in Sacramento in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Multiple callers referred to great bodily harm and psychological trauma inflicted upon community protestors by local Law Enforcement during this summer’s protests.
Amy Rogers, supervising attorney for the Sacramento chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, highlighted an organized effort by Sacramento Police Department, earlier in the day leading up to the Council meeting, to arrest anti-racist activists, who they call “Antifa.”
Rogers stated that several members of the anti-racist groups were contacted, raided, and arrested Tuesday, and called upon Chief Hahn to indicate the justification for such actions – particularly on the day before Proud Boys and affiliate groups are set to be present in the city.
Rogers also inquired as to whether the same actions were taken towards the “Alt-Right, White Supremacist groups,” who Deputy Chief Lester at least partially acknowledged played an equally antagonistic role as anti-racism demonstrators during recent protests at the State Capitol. Rogers pointed out that the Proud Boys were clearly the aggressors in the videos shared throughout Deputy Chief Lester’s presentation.
Amy Rogers pointed to a video Deputy Chief Lester presented as being “Antifa” members predatorily surrounding a lone Proud Boy at the entrance to a Downtown parking complex. The video presented by Deputy Chief Lester depicted a Proud Boy at the entrance to a parking garage, at first standing across from one “Antifa” member, who is quickly joined by more members in the audio-less video.
Rogers argued that the reality of the situation was that another Proud Boy member was up on the ramp of the garage complex, invisible from the exterior cameras, and had deployed Bear Mace at the “Antifa” member – who Rogers refers to as an “Anti-Racist” group member.
Rogers added that a number of bike police were also inside the garage, did not react to the deployment of mace, and instead rode down the ramp to descend upon the Anti-Racist group members. It is about this, and similar Law Enforcement favoring of disproportionately targeting “Antifa” as opposed to recognized hate group the Proud Boys, that over 30 community members called in to voice their disdain.
General concern with law enforcement complicity and assistance of white nationalist groups and institutions was a theme throughout community calls.
Community member Victor stated, “it is very clear now that there is law enforcement involvement inside of this far right-wing establishment,” calling for independent investigation to determine “what law enforcement was involved and how it is involved, and what we plan to do about it.”
Victor continued, “you call them just a hate group, but this is a white supremacist group, and when you don’t take action against a white supremacist group that is prepared to attack the Capitol, that are prepared to attack our community, and you focus on just the anti-fascists, which are people who show up to be able to stand guard for fascist people who are looking and attempting to hurt Black and Brown people inside of our own community.
“Is the reason why you find that they are taking action into their own hands. There needs to be an investigation into how law enforcement has supported these groups, and how they have continued to support these groups in Sacramento,” he added.
Ruth from local community support and bail fundraising organization NorCal Resist echoed Victor, charging that “nearly every weekend since the election, racist organizations from around the region have descended Sacramento, holding protests at the Capitol. The protests have been met by small groups of anti-racist counter-protestors. Each protest has seen increase in violence exercised by Trump supporters toward small groups of counter-protestors, and even bystanders.
”Yet Sacramento Police Department appear to focus most of their attention and aggression on the anti-racist protestors. For example, on Nov. 14, a young trans-person was arrested and given a $50,000 bail after being chased, heckled, and attacked by a group of Trump supporters, including one individual who was part of the mob who stormed Capitol Hill on the 6th.”
Sonia Lewis, a former leader with BLM Sacramento, recalled her past experiences with Sac PD by stating “I once saw over 80 of my community comrades arrested for asserting their First Amendment rights in one of the most affluent cities in Sacramento. I want to remind you that Chief Hahn once hanged a Blue Lives Matter sign from his office wall, a racist clapback to the BLM movement. It is irresponsible to misrepresent who and what Antifa, a group that actively opposes fascism.”
Earlier, Black Lives Matter issued a statement calling Steinberg “dismissive of our very valid concerns about racial bias and police interactions. You have continuously allowed violence to be the response to our mourning the violence that is enacted on us. Lastly, you have consistently fed us words to pacify and your actions moving in the opposite direction. And Chief Hahn, you consistently go to the media and equate white nationalist groups with the people that are doing the job of the city, and fighting racism in our streets. These things are not acceptable.
“As evidenced by the Proud Boys gathering weekly in the city of Sacramento (and in many cases for no other reason than to antagonize and incite violence), all in the name of white supremacy. But are never met with the same inhumane tactics that befall us activists and anti-racist protestors. We are consistently and instantaneously criminalized and more often than not violently taken into custody for no just cause.
“There were and are countless situations where we as Black people are disproportionately treated inhumanely and savagely by Law Enforcement during our protests. As opposed to our white counter-protesters. Mayor Steinberg, we the people, demand to know why you are allowing these white supremacist and domestic terrorists to gather, and stay gathered without any denunciation from you?
“Why are they allowed to gather, harass and attack us without ramification or equal consequence? Why are they allowed to gather for no other reason than to incite violence?
A caller criticized the City Council for being more appalled at the Jan. 6th insurrection over the White Supremacists gathering in Sacramento and stated, “You can’t condone actual problematic behavior by having this presentation geared towards criticizing Antifa. You’ll sit there and let it happen. You want to condone the people at the January 6th protest, condone the proud boys and white supremacists organizing in Sacramento.”
Rose called in and stated, “I would like to see accountability and see Sac PD stand against the proud boys both within and outside government walls.”
Ryan called in to express his disappointment with the City’s leadership for not overtly denouncing white supremacy stating, “you still refuse to call out white supremacy, if you value my humanity you’ll denounce white supremacy tonight.”
A community member mentioned that she has been unable to participate in protests out of fear of being hurt from the police’s practice of using tear gas at counter protesters. She warned that “there are White Supremacist Groups that are threatening citizens, and my children and I don’t feel safe in my own city.”
A caller with a credential press pass who covered the George Floyd protests in Sacramento recalled the experience of being “shot, tear gassed, and harassed by Sac PD. We have footage of Sac PD officers taking selfies with our license plates.”
Sara called in and mentioned that she’s witnessed a “livestream of Officer Begoza’s who’s put his arm around proud boys,” adding that she’s felt that the police have tended to show favorable behavior towards white supremacist groups.
Felicia called in and thought that the SAC PD “presentation was a joke, these are the types of officers that will open the Capitol doors for these proud boys.”
She intuitively asked why the presentation seemed to only put Antifa in a bad light and stated that Antifa is a group that is actively pushing back against White Supremacists. She stated that what happens in these Sacramento protests are “ violent racists come to Sacramento, Antifa comes and protects Sacramento racists, police come and are violent towards Antifa, repeat, repeat, repeat.”
A community member called for the City Council to hold Sac PD accountable and vet officers and “find out which of these officers have made pledges to hate groups.” He added that “I remember when the police terrorized us when we’d protest peacefully.”
Julian Rojas called in as a concerned resident that fears the presence of police in his community. He stated “as a resident of downtown I am terrified of you for the police officers occupying the Capitol and the place I live in.
A caller was appalled by Sac PD’s presentation saying “Wow what a horribly biased presentation that was dangerously fascist, don’t use the Constitution to oppress people. Proud boys have attacked counter protestors at Cesar Chavez park.
The Vanguard obtained a list of accusations by the advocates, including one that noted “Substantiated reports (show) Proud Boys, Trump supporters, and other white supremacists… harassing pedestrians of color, unhoused people, and downtown residents. There are even reports and videos of physical attacks. The Sacramento police have not intervened.”
Other claims include one that Sacramento Police treatment of white supremacists is in “stark contrast to the way police brutalized Sacramentans who protested police brutality last summer after George Floyd’s very public and horrifying execution by Minneapolis police.
“Sacramento police, supported by the National Guard, responded with ruthless force against protesters without provocation or serious threat of violence from protesters. Many people in our city are still living with the physical and psychological harms from these events,” according to activists, referencing the indiscriminate use of rubber bullets, tear gas and other “less-than-lethal” measures.
The City is facing a number of lawsuits for injuries caused by that response to sign-toting peaceful demonstrators.
The civil libertarians added that during the Trump “Stop the Steal rallies, the police treated white supremacist groups differently than the counter protesters. Up until very recently, the police only arrested counter protesters. During the events, the police would have their backs to white supremacist groups and only monitor the counter protesters.”
“This business as-usual agenda item is not nearly enough given the danger of escalated white supremacist presence in our city, and given the disparate police response to white supremacist’s actions compared to Black Lives Matter protests.
“But it is an opportunity to educate City Council about just how impactful and harmful their inaction and the police response has been. It is also an opportunity to ask for a more appropriate community forum to address violent policing at protests,” according to a statement released by community groups.
Catherine Pentoney is a 2L at Lincoln Law in Sacramento and works in the Vanguard Sacramento Bureau.
Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.
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