Toward Community-Led Accountability

 

Over the course of the last few years we have all collectively watched lynchings in the palms of our hands. We have seen bodies drop to the ground, children shot without warning, guns fired into chests without need, dead boys being cuffed and tormented --- every last moment of life dehumanized from the person they were or were to become. What we never see is transparency or accountability, let alone justice. We watch the violence on Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies by law enforcement shocked as if we just can’t fathom it. A few days ago, I myself, was saying, I can’t believe Baltimore shot a 5-year-old baby, but I don’t know why there is any disbelief, because last year I was saying I can’t believe how they murdered Freddie Gray. We need to stop pretending that any of this is new or shocking. We need to accept that something is horrifically wrong with our increasingly militaristic law enforcement agencies across the country and currently these atrocities are happening with impunity. We need to divest from a system that was created to oppress people. As always, the narrative belongs to the living and the dead can only compel us to act, so act we must. During the days of Jim Crow and commonplace extra-judicial killings, not all privileged community members stood around the tree like the sociopaths that they were --- many more hid in their houses, too afraid to take a hard stand --- like the cowards that they were.

As Sacramentans we need to collectively open that front door and march out into the street. Because I may have mentioned Baltimore, but we have nothing less shameful here. This year, in the span of only three months, our police department has murdered two unhoused Black men experiencing mental health issues. Neither had a firearm; both should be alive today.

The United States has a problem. 1186 people were killed by police in 2015.

California has a problem. 213 people were killed by police in 2015. 9 of the deceased were completely unarmed Black men.

Sacramento PD has a problem and we have a responsibility to not only demand justice for Dazion Flenaugh and Joseph Mann, but also to divest from the unchecked power that killed them.

So let’s talk about what is going on in Sacramento.

Transparency and Accountability

Zero. Where is the body camera footage for Joseph? Where is the police report for Dazion? How many complaints of police brutality did the department get in the last decade, in the last year, in the last month? What, if any, correction were the officers given? When will Sac PD feel beholden to the public to truthfully answer these questions? We don’t know the answer to this.

Racial Profiling and Police Brutality

During the last comprehensive report on racial profiling, it was determined that white people in Sacramento were stopped less than their per capita percentage, while Black drivers were stopped at almost twice the rate. Stats on police brutality are simply unknown. People do not report instances of harassment or brutality with regularity --- especially in communities of color. The trust has never been there and the risk of retaliation, is too great, but it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the public has no access to that information --- not the “investigation,” not the findings, not the response. Nothing.

Diversity

Sacramento is one of the LEAST diverse urban police departments in the country. We consistently make national news for just how white our police force is. 70%. 70% white --- even though white people make up only 36% of our population. While simple diversity in law enforcement will never change the status quo --- colonization was intended to scar folks --- this needs to change. We need a racially and culturally competent group of people that understand and live in the communities where they work. White people in positions of unchecked power is unacceptable.

In-custody Deaths by Race

A representative from the police department recently reported to the Sacramento Community Police Commission in March that 75% of in-custody death were people of color; 50% were Black men. Black men make up 7% of Sacramento’s population. They further reported on the number of officer involved shootings and seemed to be comfortable with the number of people taken from their families because they weren’t dramatically increasing. We cannot allow this department to rationalize deaths as inevitable --- the expectation should be zero. The expectation is that our institutions, especially those responsible for the care of community members, are able to complete their jobs without killing folks.

Criminalizing of Homeless Population

We have an absolute war against community members experiencing homelessness. Sac PD routinely harasses, takes survival gear like blankets and tarps from, and arrests unhoused folks for simply sleeping. People are being arrested for laying their heads down on public cement because they have nowhere else to go.

On Friday August 12th 2016, Gwendolyn Sewart, who goes by “G,” was abducted from her loving community by six officers who felt the need to subjugate her because she is experiencing homelessness, is Black, and refused to be bullied into losing the safe space she has created. G has lived in Oak Park most of her life and is beloved by her friends. With full support of the owner, G has been staying outside of the Wellspring Women’s Center for months. She has been working with the navigators to help find housing, but there is none. Having been previously cited for the anti-camping ordinance on storage of property (survival gear), Sac PD IMPACT officers began intimidating her into leaving her home by threatening to arrest her and euthanizing her cherished dog. They chose to take her into custody as she was having breakfast at her friend and neighbor’s house across the street. The IMPACT team was created to provide services to the unhoused community. They are supposed to be educated in the needs and challenges that people experiencing homelessness face. The only impact they gave her was of viciousness and abduction. They released her eight hours later, as she posed zero threat. Why would they want to take her freedom, her survival gear, her home, her dog??? Simple. She refused to leave her violently gentrified home. She refused to put their orders over her safety.

Increased Militarism

In the early morning of January 2nd, 52 Sacramento police officers in riot gear and full military formation swarmed a small peaceful protest of 20 people, arresting 7, and in the process an older unhoused disabled veteran was thrown to the ground with excessive force, and a young man experiencing homelessness had his wrists twisted so badly that his right hand swelled up almost twice the size of his left. Why? They were sleeping. Literally, their protest was sleep. There was no threat of violence and yet they were met with Stormtroopers. In 2015, Sac PD won best SWAT team during the Urban Shield event. Urban Shield is an event sponsored by corporations that used to sell military-grade weapons and surveillance to the armed forces, but now sell those same weapons, tanks, and tactics to our local police departments. Sac PD not only participates; they are at the forefront of the games winning first place.

Killing of Community Members

Dazion Flenaugh was murdered by Sacramento PD on the morning of April 8th 2016. He was unhoused and experiencing mental health issues, made worse by routine harassment from police. He was wondering around the Meadowview area, clearly lost and in need of help, asking if anyone had seen the “pearly gates.” Concerned neighbors called the police, simply worried for his health, as he had committed no crime. The responding police officer reportedly offered to give Dazion a ride back to his mother’s house --- but began a serious of unconscionable decisions that proved fatal. While Dazion was waiting to be taken home, the officer needed to speak to another neighbor, and instead having Dazion wait on the street, he illegally detained him by shutting the police car door and locking Dazion in the back seat. Already confused, Dazion deteriorated into a terrified panic and kicked at the back seat. Completely unarmed and having committed no crime, Dazion should have never been there in the first place. The officer then opened the door. Why? What was his plan? What did he plan to do to Dazion? Dazion ran. He thought they were going to kill him, he was right. Only after being chased by police (for what???) did Dazion obtain a kitchen knife from a neighbor’s house and eventually tried to hide in the bushes. The initial police story stated that Dazion had an “aggressive stance,” the next day it changed to Dazion “charging” the officers with a knife. Either way, officers had a myriad of non-lethal options that they did not employ, and they emptied their bullets in his body.

Joseph Mann was murdered by Sacramento PD on the morning of July 11th 2016. He was unhoused and experiencing mental health issues. Sound familiar? Joseph was erratically wandering in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood when police were called to the scene. Instead of assisting Joseph, who clearly needed help, they chose to chase him on foot, in vehicles, and shout at him through a loud speaker system. The official police story was that Joseph was waving a knife in the air in a populated business area, and then “charged” at the officers with a knife.

They decimated his body with nearly 20 bullets.

They said they had no alternative --- but THEY LIED. Recently released videotape taken by a community member show Joseph walking AWAY from the officers literally milliseconds before they opened fire. The video doesn’t show him holding a knife.

Now ask yourself if you are satisfied with Sac PD’s account of their murder? Are you satisfied with their account of anything? How can we trust that they are telling the truth, when it is proven that they lied, when they never provide the people with a transparent look at their actions (video-footage, investigation findings, officer complaints…), when they act with full impunity? When they act with inhumanity? I honestly don’t know why they lie at all --- they really don’t need to --- since they’ll be absolved of all responsibility.

Abolition.

Say it. Feel it on your tongue. Roll it around in your mouth as you google the word and the collectives that are organizing toward it. Look up the Audre Lorde Project. Look up Critical Resistance and the Oakland Power Project. There are no links here, because the act of searching for something new is revolutionary in and of itself, and is the first step in creating the community-led accountability that we want.

Spending time reforming a struggling system is a noble cause when the system is truly failing. This isn’t the case with law enforcement locally or nationally. Over and over we see Sacramento LEOs targeting, harassing, criminalizing, abducting, and killing our friends and loved ones. They heighten their domination at the intersections of oppressions, attacking those most marginalized. Attacking those that speak out. The system is working as intended, from old slave patrol to modern LEO, targeting people on the margins, upholding white supremacy, upholding gender violence, and upholding capitalism. There is no reform of this system --- only harm reduction.

Increasing police accountability as we work toward abolitionist goals is a reduction in the negative consequences of a carceral state. We must make sure that if we are working to change the system that we do so strategically by diverting law enforcement funds and power to community individuals and collectives.

On August 8th 2016, Black Lives Matter Sacramento attended the monthly Sacramento Community Police Commission meeting to speak out on state violence, and offer suggestions to the new civilian board that highlighted the need for it to have teeth in the form of investigative powers.

 Types of Community Police Commissions

  1. The Review Model ---This is the least effective model. They do not have independent investigation powers. They can only review the investigation that internal affairs has already completed. They then make recommendations to police departments or city council, and hope they are implemented. This is a pointless model created to add smoke and mirrors in the face of real change. Unacceptable.
  2. Auditor model --- This model doesn’t focus on individual complaints. They audit the department’s own individual review process to see if it equitable. This might be a start, but typically, this type of model relies on one professional to critique an entire system. Unequivocally, we need marginalized voices to be centered on this commission. We do not need one person to direct the narrative. Unacceptable.
  3. Investigative --- Using best practices, they have subpoena power over the police and are able to compel all materials of any complaint of misconduct. They have proportionate independent investigators and lawyers to the number of officers in the department, and are funded accordingly through reallocation of existing law enforcement monies. The community members that review the investigation findings have the power to discipline and hold LEOs accountable for their actions. The public has access to the hearings and transparency is exercised throughout.

BLM demanded that the Community Police Commission recommend to the Sacramento City Council that as a civilian board, they need investigative powers. The platform given:

What We Need from You Sacramento Community Police Commission

“While there are many powers that need to be available to you for you to effectively carry out your role, tonight we come to you with Investigative Power. Our Community Commission needs the power to receive and investigate complaints. Complaints of:

• Excessive force

• Discourteous or demeaning language

• Improper stop, arrest, search, or seizure

• Inadequate investigation or improper police reports

• Discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, sex, religion, disability, or national origin or any other criteria defined by federal and state guidelines

• Harassment

• Improper police procedures

• Improper traffic citation or towing of a car by the police

• Discrimination or sexual harassment

• Improper discharge of firearms

• Illegal search or seizure

• False arrest

• False reporting

• Criminal conduct or misconduct

Our community commission board also needs the power to have civilian investigations of death by officer and in-custody deaths.”

           ---Tanya Faison BLM Sacramento Founder

Abolition is a journey. Harm reduction is a tool to take with us on that journey. When we divest from systemic control and increase community control of policing, we move on down the road toward transformative justice.

Bringing it back to the murder of Joseph and Dazion, as well as the criminalization and attempted erasure of G and countless other folks experiencing homelessness: We need to take it to the next level. We need to get out in the street en masse to demand justice. We need to make them so uncomfortable that an investigative commissions seems obvious. Most of all, we need to create collectives that solve community issues through communities --- not the racist police.

 


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