SACRAMENTO – As he stood before the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday, calling for an end to racial profiling and shootings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement officers, Mark T. Harris was likely having flashbacks of being pulled over himself, just last week.
Moved to action by his own negative interactions with local law enforcement and the recent police involved shootings of Black men across the country, Harris, a local attorney and university professor, is among a group of “concerned and determined Black men of Sacramento” who took over City Hall this week.
The group, which includes retired educator Richard Owen, civil rights advocate Dr. Marion Woods, and area pastor Rev. Kevin Ross, mobilized more than 200 Black men to attend this week’s Council meeting.
More people showed up than the Old City Hall chambers could hold.
An overflow room was set up and even more people waited outside hoping to make it into the meeting. Councilmembers called the two-hour discussion, “unprecedented.”
“It is in the collective interests of all who call our beloved city home to take seriously the rising voices calling for change,” Harris said.
The group is championing its Project LEAD (Law Enforcement Accountability Directive), a list of demands that range from the use and management of dashboard and body cameras to wanting detailed information on training procedures for sworn officers to public accounting on the effectiveness of entities created to address police accountability.
“The recent killings of Alton Spencer and Philando Castile are simply the latest in a long list of unanswered grievances by the African American community. The only thing new is that we are now videotaping it and exposing it for folks who didn’t believe it was happening in the first place,” Owen said as he addressed the City Council.
Owen, a former Sacramento High School principal and former Superintendent of New Technology High School, said the group wants to be proactive and prevent what’s happening across the country from happening in Sacramento. He also condemned the recent killings of police officers that have occurred in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana in apparent retaliation for recent officer-involved shootings of unarmed Black men.
“It should only underscore the urgency of our concerns, however we want the same respect and the level of indignation when one of our Black men is murdered at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect us,” he said.
After incidents where they shoot Black men to death, law enforcement officers often say they acted out of fear for their lives. Many who spoke at the meeting shared that it’s the other way around, that they have reason to fear the police.
“When a person makes a call (to police) from East Sacramento, the officer arrives with an attitude of services, committed to protect the safety of the caller. Too often when a citizen in South Sacramento or Del Paso Heights calls for a police officer, the officer arrives with an attitude of suspicion and annoyance,” Dr. Woods shared.
“When a citizen of East Sacramento sees a patrol car cruising down the street, they feel protected. When citizens in South Sacramento and Del Paso Heights see a car cruising down the street, they feel like suspects even though many have never been arrested or charged with any type of crime. We need to change the view of the police as an army of occupation in some of our poorer neighborhoods,” he continued.
Area educator Will Brown shared similar comments before the Council.
“If you’re a Kings fan or a long time resident of Sacramento, you know that if a referee thinks the Kings cannot beat the Lakers in Game 7, they will ref the game in that way. The same way that if you are raised to assume that Black men are violent people, you will police them as if they were violent people. If you see them as sub-human people you will police them as if they are sub-human people and you’ll treat them that way in your professional life and in your personal life,” Brown said.
Dr. Woods wants to see law enforcement officers who demonstrate racist behavior or a pattern of excessive force against people of color psychologically evaluated or terminated. District 8 Councilmember Larry Carr said there should be a policy that dictates termination for officers who shoot an unarmed person.
Some of the most impassioned remarks of the evening came during the public comment part of the evening meeting. Among them were Marjorie Beazer, the mother of six Black sons, who implored the Council to take action.
“I know your power is limited … but within the confounds of the power you have, my expectation is that you work to create enforcement mechanisms for rules, policies and regulations that are reasonable in that when I get up in the morning, I’m not wondering which one of my children is dead today because somebody pumped 50 bullets into him in the back of a cruiser, simply because he ‘fit the description.’”
Rev. Ross said council members “sit in treasured seats and hold positions of power and influence.”
“Tonight these African American men who are assembled here are assembled here by crisis — a crisis that is not new to this Council and not new to our nation. You who are seated here today have an opportunity to help relieve and eliminate the crisis,” said the Unity Church pastor.
“We have the chance, friends, to bridge the gap and to create one community where law enforcement and African American citizens no longer deem themselves as strangers, but as builders of a world that works for everyone,” he added.
City Councilman Allen Warren said working together, all must be constructive in their actions.
“It’s very important that we get this right. We don’t want to condemn all of law enforcement because we know that’s not the answer and that it’s not all of law enforcement. We need a healthy law enforcement community, but we don’t want to feel like we have to be afraid of those that our taxpayers are paying to help keep this city safe,” Warren said.
“There’s a balance that we need to have. It’s going to take discipline in the midst of all the emotion that has been expressed tonight and that will continue to be expressed and we’re going to have to work at building something that works for this city.”
Carr said he wants to see data on “customer satisfaction” on how people perceive local police based on ethnicity, age, the district they live in and income level “so we can determine where our problems are and what has to be done to fix it.”
“My charge will not be to specify a prescription for how the police will make that happen, how they will even that scoreboard out, but that they will even it out. That’s a direct charge to the city manager, that’s a direct charge to the police chief and if they aren’t in compliance, then we get another city manager and we get another police chief,” Carr added.
Project LEAD organizers now plan to create a committee comprised of members of local community based organizations. Committee members say they will continue to work to see their demands addressed.
By Genoa Barrow
Senior Staff Writer