Abolish Sacramento’s police

A protester stands in front of Sacramento Police Department officers. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

A familiar scene that dominates national media has found its way to Sacramento. Communities of color in the streets, making themselves visible and their voices heard because a member of their community was denied due process by the police–yet again. In the wake of the shooting of Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, there has been a call for racial equity in public funds.

In the 200 years of police in America, their role has mostly been about the protection of property, not people and not rights. Historically police respond to crowds, not crime. Police have existed to round up slaves, to protect frontier towns from the Native Americans, to bust up labor strikes and to surveille a “dangerous class.” Yet, we keep the police out of fear of societal deviations. We redirect tax dollars away from community into a force that is not beholden to the community.

So let’s abolish the police.

First here’s a list of irredeemable behavior committed by the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in the past two years:

  1. In the last 24 months, 16 citizens have died from encounters with Sacramento county law enforcement agencies. Of the 16 incidents, three were unarmed and almost all of the encounters involved people suffering from mental instability and suicidal tendencies.
  2. In the 2016 riot between white supremacists and anti-racist protesters, Sacramento PD arrived in riot gear, but remained on the sidelines. The escalation of the ANTIFA vs White Supremacists riot was largely due to a jurisdiction dispute with California Highway Patrol (who is also worthy of being gutted after the Guardian reported it worked with white supremacists to bring charges against ANTIFA protesters, but sympathy to white nationalists).
  3. Have you heard of Sac PD Underground, the cop-run Facebook group that espouses pro-cop rhetoric? It specializes in dusty tropes like safety when confronting suspects, and digging up police records and questionable photos of suspects who were denied due process in police shootings.
  4. The 2017 beating of Nandi Cain Jr. for jaywalking, an offense in Sacramento that is upheld threefold in black communities. It’s essentially Sacramento’s version of “stop and frisk.” Only 30 citations in Midtown, but 233 citations in North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights, 50 percent of which were issued to black people.
  5. How about August 2017, when police threw Zityrua Abraham, a pregnant woman, to the ground and pointed their weapons in her home where a 1-year-old slept, only to learn that the man they handcuffed was not the suspected car thief they sought in the first place. The body cam video shows officers running up on a home, Abraham blocking the entrance while pleading that her son is asleep inside, police pulling her away and one officer kicking in the door while two others point their pistols at the doorway. Those inside exit with their hands up and are handcuffed. Department Spokesperson Sgt. Bryce Heinlein’s statement was that, “as you can see in the video, there was no malice in the officer’s actions.” She has yet to be reimbursed for the damages to her home.
  6. What of unarmed men like Ryan Ellis, who died in custody, and the details involving the shooting of Michael McIntyre–both men in the custody of the Sheriff. One suspect reportedly kicked out the back window of a moving vehicle and hit his head, which a Sheriff Spokesman Sgt Tony Turnball is quoted as saying it “happens a lot” but has provided no data. The other was only armed with rocks by a riverbed and was having a mental episode. Police opened fire when he reportedly hit a police dog with a large stone and charged officers but there is no body cam footage or audio to support the use of fatal force.
  7. The three officers who killed Dazion Flenaugh, a 40-year-old, mentally-ill man with a knife, were given the Bronze Medal of Valor.
  8. What about Patricia Hill, a black woman who was pulled over by the Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of a DUI because she accidentally activated her windshield wipers? Hill, through the support of Black Lives Matter, claims deputies her breathalyzer test came back negative several times. Police arrested her and then slammed her face on the patrol car, breaking her nose and knocking her unconscious. She was then abused further by three female officers who broke her eye socket and knocked her unconscious again. BLM requested public records of the incident, which resulted in Sheriff Scott Jones issuing a statement that he is not mandated to treat a BLM request as credible.
  9. Remember officer Isaac Richard Nutilla? He’s the cop who was arrested with “usable” amounts of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, along with his service pistol, after police received an internal tip that Nutilla was seen in an area noted for prostitution. He received rehab, community service and five years probation because “the job’s really what drove him down this path,” according to his lawyer.
  10. In the 48 hours after the death of Stephon Clark, police unions donated $10,000 (with an additional $3,000 arriving three days later) to current District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. First reported by activist and rivaling super PAC representative Shaun King, and later confirmed by Voices: River City. This is not a coincidence. Offering political, financial support to the office that decides whether your department wrongfully used force is legalized bribery protected by the Buckley vs Valero Supreme Court decision that said giving money to political parties is free speech.

Abolish the police.

Sacramento police stand in riot gear during a demonstration over the killing of Stephon Clark. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

Throughout the country this idea is gaining serious traction and consideration by activists and reformers–even with lawmakers. It’s not a joke, nor a suggestion too radical to be taken seriously. The idea is that the police have overextended themselves as a social organ. Wouldn’t the wide swath of public service be more effective if it was instead handled by trained specialists in specific fields; i.e. domestic abuse, homeless services, community forums, post-prison assimilation programs and organizations that promote gang alternatives or rehab?

In fact, Sacramento resides just east of a historical hotbed of revolutionary thinkers and activists, mostly feminists, who began the abolitionist movement. It starts with Angela Davis, who began speaking on abolition of the police and the prison-industrial complex as a faculty member of the University of Santa Cruz in the 1990s. Her organization Critical Resistance influenced more abolitionists like Incite!, another group of radical feminists of color.

After numerous police shootings in New York City, protesters there made abolitionist demands for reasons influenced by Critical Resistance and Incite! Those same demands are at the crux of Black Lives Matter Sacramento’s protests and platform. These organizations emphasized building community institutions that focused on drug addiction, mental illness and other underlying social problems that led to mass incarceration. The goal was that these institutions would eventually make police unnecessary.

Mariame Kaba, a pupil of Davis, has gone on to influence numerous Chicago-based abolitionist groups like Assata’s Daughter, Black Lives Matter Chicago and Black Youth Project 100. Her teachings and those she influences are not seeking anarchy or destruction. The emphasis is clear: This system of surveillance, policing and prison must end in order to build “new ways of  intersecting and new ways of relating with each other.”

Abolishing the police, as many abolitionist thinkers see it, is not about focusing on what we don’t want, but what we do want. Which brings us to a significant local issue: Measure U.

A protester stands in the street during demonstrations over the police killing of Stephon Clark. [Photo: Kristopher Hooks]

Capital Public Radio recently reported that police and fire ate up $140 million of tax dollars devoted to Measure U since 2013. This measure was established to restore services lost during the recession, but only $5 million has gone to libraries, and $48 million to parks. Imagine that money going into uplifting Meadowview–a redlined neighborhood where one-third of the children live in poverty and one-fifth of the adults are unemployed–instead of maintaining surveillance of it.

Coincidentally, a recent study looking at economic and wage disparities in Sacramento suggested racial and economic equity was possible through protecting residents from eviction, raising the minimum wage, increasing youth programs, expanding public transit and reducing mass incarceration of minorities. All of which are issues heavily lobbied against in the city and at the Capitol.

What we do want is an end to the Peace Officer’s Bill Of Rights. Signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 1976, it is one of the most stringent protections of police privacy in the nation. According to constitutional law scholar professor Erwin Chemerinsky, the killing of Clark is “systemic,” “not random” and a “reflection of much deeper problems in policing in the United States.” (His 200-page report on the culture of violence tolerance in the LAPD from 2000 is a must-read.)

Focus on very simple factors. Risk and harm to both the enforcement and the community versus cost benefit or profit. If “the job drove him down this path” is the explanation for police committing crimes just as heinous as the ones we hire them to uphold, shouldn’t that be a strong indication that the stresses of this job are incongruent with modern society? When research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in law enforcement than the general population, shouldn’t we be determining if that’s a necessary statistic to maintain just to feel safe? What about police families?

Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante speaks into a megaphone at a protest. [Photo: Kris Hooks]

When seven of the 16 shootings in Sacramento could be viewed as eligible for “suicide by police,” shouldn’t we be discussing disarming officers in the same manner that we create safety barriers so that people can’t leap from bridges? When the officer’s defense in a shooting is “I did not feel safe” sounds just like Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, saying “I don’t feel safe at grandma’s house,” doesn’t that sound like the risk on both sides of the argument are extreme enough? What if we are the extremists for maintaining a system where no one feels safe?

It’s not safe on patrol and it is not safe in your grandmother’s backyard. Shouldn’t that indicate that this job is a hazard to the public and its employees and therefore should not exist? Or is the money too damn good?

This essay has been updated to include Black Lives Matter Sacramento’s position on abolishing the police. Their Alternatives to Police Facebook group can be found here.


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Blake Gillespie
Blake Gillespie is a freelance journalist based in Sacramento. He's a former co-owner of Impose Magazine and has contributed at the Sacramento News & Review, the Sacramento Bee, the East Bay Express, Comstock's and Vice.com. His decade-plus of experience is in music, arts, sports, political and culture coverage.