Sacramento News & Review cancels SAMMIES music award show in face of Black activists’ protest and artists’ boycott

Kali Ausselet demonstrates outside of the Sacramento News & Review's offices during Black Lives Matter Sacramento's protest of the paper in late December. [Photo: Andru Defeye]

Alternative weekly newspaper Sacramento News & Review has canceled its annual Sacramento Area Music Awards ceremony (known as the SAMMIES) in the face of community protests stemming from the fallout from a story the paper published last December on the former police officer who killed Joseph Mann.

This is the first time SN&R will not be hosting the event in 25 years.

In an email sent Tuesday to the region’s nominated musicians, the paper cited the amount of time and money necessary to put on such an event as their reason for the cancellation. They continued:

In addition, there has been some recent criticism of certain SN&R editorial decisions that personally touched the lives of several of the musicians participating in the event. This also weighed heavily in our decision to cancel the event. The SAMMIES are meant to unite people around music. We don’t want to put our local musicians in the middle of a divisive controversy.

Last December, SN&R published a story titled “Confessions of a Killer Cop,” in which they interviewed the former Sacramento Police Department officer who tried to run over and then shot and killed Joseph Mann–an unarmed Black man suffering a mental health crisis–in the summer of 2016. On the issue’s cover, the disgraced cop wears a Superman t-shirt, with phrases floating around his head–presumably his own quotes–such as “I live for my children” and “I’m not the beast that I’m made out to be.”

Local Black rights activists such as Black Lives Matter Sacramento and BlackArtsMatter expressed disapproval of the story and cover image, claiming that the piece lifted up the voice of Mann’s killer.

In response, the editor of SN&R published a response on the paper’s Facebook page, tagging multiple local activists (as well as the story’s author) in a post to its 14,000 followers. This angered both activists and third-party readers.

Black Lives Matter Sacramento protesters demonstrate outside the Sacramento News & Review offices in response to their handling of the story on Joseph Mann’s killer. [Photo Dave Kempa]

Black Lives Matter Sacramento held a protest outside of SN&R offices soon after, and BLM partnered with fellow civil rights group BlackArtsMatter to hold a competing event with the SAMMIES, called “The Anti-Sammies!

Multiple musical artists declined their SAMMIES nominations in solidarity with the Black rights groups. The Anti-Sammies Facebook event garnered more than double the RSVP’s of the paper’s event.

Finally, on Tuesday of this week, SN&R announced the cancellation of its event, but stressed they would still be giving out awards.

Black Lives Matter Sacramento leader Tanya Faison said in an email that the group was pleased to see an organic community movement come out of the group’s fight against SN&R.

“We think it shows that there is power in numbers. That there is power in the people,” Faison wrote. “The community is ready to carry this through [until] we see change.”

One of the many musical artists to boycott the SAMMIES, The Philharmonik, expressed mixed emotions on the canceled event.

“I just hope the artists that boycotted remember what they boycotted for, that it’s not about awards but people and artists of color who have not received a fair platform to be included, honored, and recognized so their voice can be heard,” The Philharmonik wrote in a message to Voices: River City.

“Whether it involves the lack of Black artists being recognized for their music, or the lack of Black journalists in our local newspapers, I hope this is a wake-up call to change the status quo of systematic negligence towards marginalized communities.”

In his editor’s note last Thursday, SN&R editor Eric Johnson discussed his meetings with Faison and Black Sacramento artists. He mentioned that he is responding directly to a “couple dozen” artists who turned away their SAMMIES nominations.

“Everyone in my newsroom recognizes that we must do a more proactive job of recruiting people of color to tell their stories,” he added.

But some artists believe that’s not enough.

April Walker, known for her avant-garde performances as SpaceWalker, posted a video after SN&R’s cancellation announcement titled “Heard they cancelled the SAMMIES…” in which she stresses the importance of an apology as it relates to accountability.

“If they had issued a statement acknowledging that what they did was in poor taste, to say the least, and shown willingness to improve instead of shutting down, I think a lot of people would’ve been more forgiving,” Walker later wrote in a message to V:RC.

BlackArtsMatter founder Mone’t Ha-Sidi also sees a lot of work to be done in the Sacramento community.

“Now that we have your attention to a problem that has been an insidious cancer in our city, I hope that people will learn from this and speak out when they see racism [and] anti-Blackness,” Ha-Sidi wrote in a message to V:RC.

“Black people have been living in a different Sacramento than the rest of you. We have to fight for our humanity [and] visibility.”

V:RC has not yet received comments from SN&R publisher Jeff von Kaenel or editor Eric Johnson.

This story has been updated to include comments from Black Lives Matter leader Tanya Faison and musician April Walker.

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Dave Kempa
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.