Dozens of police officers in riot gear surrounded a group of protesters on a highway overpass in East Sacramento on Monday night, encircling a sign-waving crowd that included students, clergy and at least one reporter documenting the scene. The demonstrators had gathered to march against the recent decision not to prosecute two cops who fatally shot Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, last year.
The tense standoff ended around 10 p.m. local time, when police began arresting many in the crowd -- including longtime Sacramento Bee journalist Dale Kasler. The cops also cuffed 84 other people, claiming that the protesters had ignored orders to leave the streets and that some were suspected of keying cars during the march.
“We gave multiple orders to disperse,” Sacramento Police Sgt. Vance Chandler later told reporters. “Ultimately, we made at least 10 announcements.”
But critics accused the force of overreacting after days of protests against the ruling that there won’t be charges for the two officers who killed Clark in his grandmother’s backyard after mistaking an iPhone in his hands for a gun.
“I’m very disappointed that the protest ended the way it did. I have many questions about what caused the order to disperse and the subsequent arrests,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement.
Steinberg specifically criticized the police for arresting Kasler, who sat on the ground in handcuffs for about an hour until he was released without charges. A Sacramento Bee photographer covering the protest also said an officer with a baton shoved him to the ground, damaging his camera.
“No matter the reason an order to disperse was given, no member of the press should be detained for doing their job,” Steinberg said.
Protests have rocked the city since Saturday, when Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that the two officers who killed Clark, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, were justified in using deadly force. The police fired 20 times at the 22-year-old father of two on March 18, 2018, after responding to a neighbor’s call about cars being broken into. In January, Clark’s family filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city.
The latest demonstration started around 6:30 p.m. on Monday outside of a Trader Joe’s grocery store, where between 70 and 100 people gathered, the Bee reported. Organizers told the Bee they’d chosen the area because “it is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the City of Sacramento and home to many influential leaders in city and state government.” The protesters shut down a nearby street as they walked and chanted.
During the protest, some in the crowd got into a confrontation with a man wearing a “Make America Great Again" hat. As he argued with protesters, a protester grabbed his hat. Video from the scene shows the man yelling “Don’t touch me!” until police intervened. (He later told a reporter he’d worn the hat to the event “to see what would happen.”)
By 9:30 p.m., police had arrested several demonstrators after they said they’d found cars vandalized nearby. As police began demanding that the crowd disperse, marchers instead moved onto a nearby Highway 50 overpass. Some activists complained that the police had boxed them in, making it impossible to obey their orders to leave.
Sometime after 10 p.m., police began the mass arrests. Kasler later told the Bee that the cops weren’t interested when he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist.
“I held up my press credentials and said, ‘I’m a reporter for The Bee,’ and this guy said ‘okay’ and took me off,” said Kasler, who’s in his 23rd year with the paper. “They said, ‘When doing mass detention, these kinds of things, we don’t pick and choose. Everybody goes.’”
Vance told reporters that most of the protesters would be charged with failing to disperse, though at least one also faced charges of resisting arrest. It was unclear whether any would be charged with vandalism.
Steinberg, the mayor, said he would be demanding answers from the force about why the demonstration ended in dozens of arrests.
“I will withhold further comment until I get answers to these crucial questions tonight or tomorrow morning,” Steinberg said.
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.
More from Morning Mix: