by Contributing Writer, Cheryl D. Howard
The Sacramento Bee, McClatchy Company hosted the virtual continuation of their series, “Breaking Point: Tackling Systemic Racism in Sacramento.” The carefully selected panel (in a virtual session on 7/15/2020) of diverse professionals were Kiran Savage-Sangwan, Dr. Flojaune Cofer, Katie Valenzuela, Jasper James, and Councilman Eric Guerra. This panel has proven to have their finger on the pulse of this city and has brought a shift to the current narratives to bring awareness to the presence of racism weaved within our police department. Vice-President of McClatchy news, Kristin Roberts, gave introduction to this much needed discussion. Roberts opened with an appropriate quote by Ida B Wells, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” The talks were led by Sac Bee’s columnist, Marcos Breton. The panel will add their individual insights and possible solutions related to race, law enforcement and systemic racism. Breton’s readers questioned why members of law enforcement were not included on the panel or some questioned why this panel was not a debate instead. Breton responded, “My friends (readers), systemic racism is no longer up for debate. One could argue that we’ve reached this moment in time because too many deny what exist in plain sight.”
Dr. Cofer, chair of the City of Sacramento Measure U citizen advisory committee, put into prospective what has been controversial about the phrase “Defunding Police”. Breton pointed out that to some it is a radical idea that leaves citizens vulnerable to crime. He asked Cofer should people fear the term defunding police? And if not, what does that mean? Cofer answered “No”. She believes in fact we really should embrace it. It actually shifts the focus away from thinking about response to emergencies to the goal of public safety and that is applying funding to ways to prevent an emergency before it occurs. Katie Valenzuela, newly appointed to the Sacramento City Council, has been more vocal for police reform. She believes that the voices of the communities should be made known to the Mayor because they are ready for action. Police accountability is a necessity to reach reform.
There have been very disparaging efforts to bridge the gap between the Sacramento City Council and the Sac Community Police Review Commission. “Something is very broken with what the role of the commission is, or what the role of the commission should be”, said Kiran Savage-Sangwan, former chair for Sacramento’s police review commission. Kiran explains that the review board is set up to be an advisory board to the city council. However, the positive impact that the commission may have is often diminished. For example, in 2018 before State law was changed and before the California Attorney General’s recommendations, the commission produced a policy to reduce potentially deadly uses of force. The brevity of that recommendation was that “No police officer in Sacramento should kill a resident if there is any feasible alternative,” stated Savage-Sangwan.
After the death of Stephon Clark, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Chief Daniel Hahn went to the Attorney General and invited him to first investigate Clark’s death, and then to do an extensive review of their police department and provide some recommendations on use of force. The report findings were disturbing in regard to the excessive use of deadly force. An astounding forty-nine (49) recommendations were made for Sacramento police reform. The second report filed recently by the Attorney General made it absolutely clear that the use of force in this department, wrought against black citizens in certain communities, were racist. The implementation of these recommendations was left entirely up to the department itself, yet they chose to not implement critical components like the prohibition of the carotid restraint. This particular recommendation was given over 18 months ago, long before the death of George Floyd.
Councilman Eric Guerra shifted the conversation to the alarming disregard of how COVID-19 was affecting the Latino population. “They did not see us.” Guerra exclaimed. Latinos were not seen or recognized as essential workers as they continued to work in janitorial jobs, outdoor labor, and other essential services, thus exposing them to the virus. Breton stated that Latinos are reported to be 54.8% of COVID-19 cases and 48.8% of COVID-19 deaths. He stated that this is a catastrophic failure of our Public Health System. Guerra said few talked about it and there was no representation for the Latino and that is where the discussion of race matters.
And finally, Jasper James, Co-Founder and CCO of Activism Articulated, author of the “Black Bill of Rights” states that historically speaking, blacks are not really educated about their own history. “The winners write history, and history is White Supremacy history” James said. Jasper has fully been educated in regard to the history of black citizens. “I went back to the 1700’s and realized a very disturbing pattern of how our lawmakers have really set an agenda against black people to created laws that undermine the rights that we should be receiving under the law.” She believes if our local leaders and lawmakers were really on board with “Black Lives Matter” there would be no issues. Black people and our allies need to come together and be on the same page.
Roberts stated in the beginning that George Floyd’s death ignited the national crisis of racism, but change must happen on the local level. In essence, it all begins at home.
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Cheryl Denice Howard is a freelance writer and in her short career has successfully written three stageplays, was editor and creator of three community newsletters, and while in college had more than 30 articles published. Her favorite genre of writing is Opinion. She won an award for opinion writing, and it was well deserved. She is currently working on her first screenplay while pursuing a Bachelor degree in Journalism with a Minor in Creative Writing.