By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – Protesters claim that the Sacramento Police Department in 2020 brutalized demonstrators in an effort to disrupt and end protests by Black Lives Matters and others following the death of George Floyd.
According to a lawsuit recently filed, plaintiffs experienced violence, surveillance, and home raids by police for months after engaging in anti-racist protesting. The suit seeks to end the City’s discriminatory, violent tactics against anti-police brutality protesters.
Plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
One plaintiff’s home was raided, months after participating in one May 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Sacramento, by 60 police officers, including SWAT units in tactical gear, gang units, and investigators. He, his pregnant wife, and elderly parents were all handcuffed in zip ties for hours and the plaintiff was arrested.
“This is a case about the city of Sacramento and its police. Department’s systematic and oppressive efforts to repress the speech of everyday people who use their voices to fight for racial justice against white supremacy and to end police brutality against black people,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area during a press conference on Monday.
“In this case, they used weapons designed for war to control crowds of people who were kneeling, had their hands up,” she said. “The psychological impacts of this type of targeted violence cannot be overstated.”
Moreover, she said, “When organized white supremacist groups arrived in the Capitol city armed with knives and guns, Sacramento law enforcement offered a start contrast,” she added. “Engaging with the organized white supremacy groups in jovial conversations, sharing coffee and jokes. The perception from the white supremist groups was the Sacramento police department has our back.”
According to Pilar Gonzalez Morales, Director of Accessibility Project at CREEC, “our lawsuit against Sacramento police department and the city of Sacramento includes two first amendment claims.”
She explained, “The police acted in such a way to stop our clients and the many other racial justice protesting protestors from engaging in this protected speech activity.”
Second, she alleged the police “unconstitutionally discriminated against the plaintiffs based on the content of their speech.
“The department’s response to racial justice protests, gatherings, and even vigils was incredibly forceful. Police routinely used chemical weapons, impact munitions and other violent tactics to quash the speech of our clients and other racial justice protestors,” she said.
Malaika Lobo, an attorney working on the case, added that the lawsuit also includes a 14th Amendment Equal Protection claim.
Here they allege that “the police department’s discriminatory use of force (was) based upon an animus towards attendees at protests, concerning police violence and accountability.”
Several of the plaintiffs on the case also spoke.
Nicolette shared that she has organized and attended demonstrations in the city since 2011.
“Last summer was the first time I felt I had to wear goggles and a helmet because of escalating and unchecked violence from the far right,” she said. “The way the Sac PD policed the protest caused my city to feel like a war zone, a feeling that I haven’t shaken. It instills a fear, a memory in the bones, and it’s on purpose.”
Another plaintiff explained, “My home was invaded by over 80 law enforcement, militarized officers, two SWAT trucks. There was a gang unit, officers from different jurisdictions I believe, they were all in military gear pointing weapons at myself and my family, my pregnant wife, who was two, three months pregnant at the time.”
He described, “It’s trauma that I still live with, psychologically, my family still has to live with.
“I was brought out at gunpoint,” he said. “I was not shown a warrant. To this day, I still haven’t seen the warrant. I was zip tied, put on my knees, had my back turned against the officers with military grade weapons pointed at me.”
He said, “It’s an experience that has stuck with me, on top of that, just trying to pick up the pieces of myself and my family.”
Another plaintiff said, “What I experienced in Sacramento is a culture within law enforcement, which stands entirely contrary to the pursuit of justice and contrary to the basic rights of those they’re meant to serve.”
He said, “I saw law enforcement routinely misuse the power that they are given to terrify and suppress the voices of those who would speak against racism and against police brutality.
“They assault, harass, follow, threaten, abduct, falsely accuse and arrest anti-racist and anti-police brutality demonstrators,” he said. “I saw (that) these same police officers looked the other way when white supremacists, such as the Proud Boys would physically assault and use chemical weapons on anti-racist and anti-police brutality demonstrators, including myself. The police in Sacramento have allowed violent white supremacists to run unchecked in front of their own eyes and they have refused to act.
“They’ve saved all of their action for silencing those who would challenge the systems that uphold racism and police brutality,” he said. “When I see a police officer, my heart pounds, my hands shake, my body feels off balance.”
Another plaintiff said, “When I first heard that white supremacist groups were planning to patrol in my community, I felt compelled to go and warn my neighbors.
“My experience as a black woman in Sacramento is that the law enforcement does not keep me or my community safe and does not prevent violence,” she said. “Instead, my tax dollars have been used for the Sacramento police department to literally beat me into accepting the abuse from those in charge.”
“The Sacramento Police Department has blatantly violated anti-police brutality protesters’ Constitutional right to assemble and demonstrate,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer. “Our plaintiffs have been so severely targeted, threatened, and brutalized by police, they no longer fully engage in their First Amendment right to protest. They continue to suffer tremendous physical, psychological, and emotional harm arising from the excessive force and discrimination.”
“This lawsuit challenges a history of racist policing that has existed in Sacramento and affected generations of anti-racist, anti-police brutality protesters. The Sacramento Police Department’s response to, and the City’s encouragement of their response, to the 2020 and 2021 protests is but the tip of the iceberg. Our clients, and the community at large, seek an end to this traumatizing, violent history,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales.
The Complaint can be viewed here.