ACT in Action
Most powerful at last night’s Board meeting were the voices and stories of high school students from throughout the District. Every single student in attendance demanded the Board acknowledge their negative and traumatic experiences with police officers on campus and reject the contract in order to find alternatives to policing. As Stephanie López Hernández, high school student at Luther Burbank and member of Brown Issues states, “Nearly all the research about police on campus shows that it undermines safety and harms students, but the Board could have simply listened to the voices of Black and Brown students here in their own District. We live it every single day. Voting to extend this contract is a betrayal of the trust Board members have tried to build with our communities. They were more concerned with temporary inconveniencing school administrators than the lifetime of trauma and criminalization that’s triggered when there are cops on campus. We need more counselors, more teachers, more support; not more cops.“
[Gabby] Trejo told the room about a moment she saw people come together in her experience at Sacramento ACT, a multifaith advocacy organization. To bridge the divide in a closed-door meeting between black and Latino workers, everyone was instructed to say all the things that they say about each other’s communities behind closed doors. To everyone’s surprise, they held the exact same stereotypes and hurled similar insults at each other.
Trejo was afraid the people participating would get “so nasty” with one another that they would no longer want to talk, but this exercise made them realize there are preconceptions about race and cultures that overlap.
“It was this moment of bridge and belonging and recognizing that systems are created intentionally to divide us and separate us and take us away from the human that we share, the human aspect,” Trejo said. “What is it going to take for all of us to really be counted as true human beings that are treated with respect and dignity no matter what?”
In 2018, the city of Sacramento managed to escape a grim statistic: It made it 12 months without a child being murdered.
Now, an initiative that some in the region view as a gamble is being hailed by others as a glimmer of hope—a chance to interrupt the cycle of gang killings that have long plagued the city.
Advance Peace grabbed plenty of headlines when Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council braved a storm of criticism in the summer of 2017 when Sacramento became the first U.S. city to sign up for the program.
But the program is showing early success, according to a draft of the first annual progress report to the city that was reviewed by SN&R. The most telling result: Every participant is still alive.
Advance Peace is designed to break the cycle of retaliatory killings by identifying the young men who are most likely to be gang shooters—or victims—and provide them with guidance and services, including mentoring, job training, counseling and mental health treatment.
“A small group of Sacramento mental health professionals, faith leaders and educators ramped up the safe black spaces as the city started looking for therapists.
“As the call came out and it became very clear that the community as a whole was really struggling, in particular the black community,” she said. “Part of how these healing circles evolved was around that natural call from the community and a response from folks on the ground … saying ‘OK let’s do this,’ and using a tool that had already been developed.”
Police shootings do create stress for law enforcement agents as well as civilians. But a 2018 study in medical journal The Lancet found that black Americans are especially impacted after these events. Researchers reported that police killings of unarmed black men accounted for up to 1.7 additional “poor mental health” days for black people per year. They didn’t see the same effects for white people.
In safe black spaces, leaders focus on black history, and help people acknowledge that they may be affected by generations of racial trauma. Haggins asks questions like “Why are you here today?” and “How do you feel about racism and how it’s affecting your life, in one word?” She gets answers like “rage,” “anger,” “overwhelmed,” and “depressed.””
A broad coalition of nonprofits and labor groups recently unveiled a new tool for shielding local immigrant families from being separated by the Department of Homeland Security.
The strategy involves widely distributing bilingual guides and pictorial pamphlets across three counties, ones that explain the rights every undocumented person has under U.S. law. According to the Sacramento Immigration Coalition, the coordinator of the effort, at the heart of these publications are real human stories about coming into contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The announcement about this outreach happened March 18 at the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. That group, Sacramento Area Congregations Together and others are forming a multi-organizational phalanx to distribute the information to immigrant families.
Joy Johnson, a pastor who is the head of Sacramento ACT – a faith-based advocacy organization – said the law gives police officers too much discretion.
“And there are some discrepancies in how it’s applied. I believe this new law would provide a more concrete definition,’’ Johnson said. “We’re trying to raise the public’s consciousness to see that, if you say you followed the law to the letter and the law says it’s justifiable to take the life of an unarmed person, then we believe the law needs re-examining.’’
Les Simmons, pastor of the South Sacramento Christian Center, is among the community leaders expected at Monday’s march. He was one of the clergy members arrested March 4 in what he, Johnson and others called misguided actions by the police.
Simmons said this past year has been emotionally challenging for his multi-ethnic congregation, which has had to process the Clark shooting, an 11-month-long wait for a DA’s verdict that disappointed many and the concurring decision by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra that no charges should be filed against Mercadal and Robinet.
Simmons said healing will come from relying on values such as accountability and justice, and Monday’s demonstration could be part of that process if handled properly.
“If it’s peaceful and done in the idea of love and community and belonging, I think that would represent lifting up the right theme – peacefully assembling and protesting,’’ he said. “Those things are healthy. They push for change.’’
Two days before Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced she wouldn’t file criminal charges against the police officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark, Chief Daniel Hahn sat at a table with the Rev. Mary Westfall, a pastor with the Presbytery of Sacramento.
Hahn and his officers had met with Westfall, other clergy and black community leaders for several months, bringing in speakers on transformational policing and discussing how both sides could help deescalate tense situations after Schubert’s inevitable announcement. The city wanted avoid another national black eye like the one it wore after Clark’s death, when protesters shut down Golden 1 Center and took over city council meetings; activists wanted a guarantee that they could peacefully express themselves without facing force.
“Many faith leaders had been working with law enforcement to say ‘when this day comes, we want to do it differently,’” Westphal said. “We worked hard with the communities who are most affected by this egregious injustice to really tell them, ‘trust for now. We are assured we won’t be met with violence. Demonstrate, grieve, express your anger and outrage.”
In her last meeting with Hahn before the DA’s decision, Westfall gave a gentle reminder of what was to come.
“I looked him in the face and said, ‘Chief Hahn, in a few days, we’re going to be facing each other in different circumstances. Remember what we’ve done here. Remember who these people are that your law enforcement (agents) will be looking at,’” Westfall recalled Thursday.
What followed, Westfall said, was “a total breach of faith.”
Pastor Damian Chandler of Capitol City Seventh-Day Adventist Church requests the floor. He says a police stop with his two sons in the car got him thinking. He says he’s not here solely for his ancestors.
“The reason that I’m standing here today is not just because of Stephon Clark, but also for those who are alive,” he says. “I want to go to graduations. I want to go to my son’s wedding. I want to bless my grandchildren. And if I don’t speak out and stand for those who are living, at some point, Rev. Ben, someone’s going to call one of my son’s names.”
“Over the past few months I have participated in clergy and community activities to prepare for the Stephon Clark decision. In all of those discussions we emphasized de-escalation and judicious use of police power. Yet when demonstrations were held in an elite community, notice the difference,” said Imam Haazim Rashed of Masjid As Sabur mosque in South Sacramento.
“By holding it where people of power live, we saw no deescalation, no judicious use of police power, no mitigation, no negotiation, we saw oppression,” he said.
He was among about 150 people gathered at the Capitol to advocate for A.B. 392. Many of them chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” among other things.
Sacramento police arrested 84 people after demonstrators marched through the city's affluent East Sacramento neighborhood Monday, protesting the district attorney's decision not to bring criminal charges against the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark last March.
Those arrested include Pastor Les Simmons of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, a prominent figure in actions around the Clark cause over the past year, two journalists, and students who were part of a group that shut down the Arden Fair Mall on Sunday.
The actions by police were a stark contrast to when demonstrations erupted after Clark's death last year when only a handful of arrests were made despite protestors shutting down Interstate 5 and blocking fans from entering a Sacramento Kings basketball game.
While those previous demonstrations targeted downtown Sacramento, this was the first to take place in a wealthier, predominantly white part of the city.
“We saw Stephon Clark die twice. March 18, 2018, and we saw him die March 2, 2019, today, in how he was referred to, and then no accountability of these officers... This is no justice for the Clark family and no justice for the side of what we call Beloved Community, right? Dr. King lifted up the idea of Beloved Community, which stands on justice, which stands on love, which stands on belonging, and this is not that. I think we have an opportunity in Sacramento to lead not only the state but the nation in redefining what justice looks like for these incidents.” Pastor Les Simmons