Black Monday: Series of Sacramento protests over fatal police encounters culminates with silent Capitol march

Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have prompted a wave of unrest

Brianna Cormier, 18, leads 1,000 demonstrators onto the west steps of the state Capitol during a silent march to call attention to the police shootings of black males.

Brianna Cormier, 18, leads 1,000 demonstrators onto the west steps of the state Capitol during a silent march to call attention to the police shootings of black males.

Photo by Kris Hooks

Backed by nearly 1,000 people, many dressed all in black, Brianna Cormier and Jamejha Hall silently marched side by side down Capitol Mall. Escorted by the Sacramento Police Department, the group descended onto the west steps of the Capitol, hands painted red, fists held high and signs waving in the air.

The two recent Valley High School graduates put together the march, dubbed #Stand4BlackLives, following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both black men, and both killed at the hands of police.

“We just wanted to come together and prove that people can march together peacefully to get our views and frustrations out across with the law,” the 18-year-old Cormier told SN&R. “Whether there was one person out here or 1,000, I just wanted somebody to be out here and stand with us.”

The march was just one in a weekend-long series of local demonstrations that continued Tuesday during the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting, where demonstrators called for greater accountability at the sheriff’s department. As it has since his death, Black Lives Matter-Sacramento demanded the release of dashcam footage and additional information regarding the fatal October 2015 shooting of Adrienne Ludd following an attempted vehicle stop in Carmichael.

On July 9, more than 200 people rallied in front of Sheriff Scott Jones’ congressional campaign headquarters to also call for greater transparency. In the days before, there were two smaller protests, one outside of the county jail and the other at the Capitol. On Sunday, there were two more—at Arden Fair Mall and in south Sacramento.

Various organizations have been perturbed by last week’s killings of Sterling and Castile, and the perceived lack of police accountability after officers shot both men.

Sterling was selling CDs outside of Triple S, a corner store in Baton Rouge, La., when police reportedly received a call that he was pointing a gun and threatening another man outside of the store. Cellphone video footage from a witness shows two police officers, since identified as Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, on top of Sterling before firing into his upper torso.

Castile’s death was also recorded, not by a passerby but by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. Cellphone footage from Reynolds, who was sitting in the passenger seat, showed Officer Jeronimo Yanez pointing his gun at Castile through the driver-side window after shooting him multiple times while Castile’s 4-year-old daughter sat in the backseat. Castile died hours later in a Minnesota hospital.

Both killings prompted nationwide demonstrations, many of which had Black Lives Matter protesters being forecfully arrested by officers decked out in riot gear.

Monday’s Capitol march struck a more collegiate tone, however.

Minutes before its start time, Sacramento police informed Cormier and Hall that they would escort them and provide traffic control, allowing the protesters to march safely down Capitol Mall. In addition, the California Highway Patrol allowed organizers to fill out a permit request once they reached the Capitol, making the protest compliant with state policies.

Normally, organizers would have had to apply for a permit in advance of holding an event on Capitol grounds.

“There wasn’t any communication, that we’re aware of, ahead of time with the group,” said CHP spokesman Capt. Josh Ehlers. “But what we want to do is actively engage with the people that we’re charged with protecting. In this case, we were able to do that successfully, because we wanted to make sure that they had a safe venue to express their First Amendment rights.”

Some griped about the touchy-feely vibe between protesters and law enforcement on the event’s Facebook page—which has since been taken down. Others said that marchers shouldn’t have prayed for the Dallas police officers who were killed in a July 7 ambush at the same event where they were honoring black men and youths who were killed by police in recent years.

Ronald Stevens, a Sacramento chef who led demonstrators in prayer before and after the march, said the prayers were deliberately intended to unify police and the black community.

“I’m grateful that God stepped in and allowed us to have the provision of the police to come out and march,” Stevens explained. “This event wasn’t about hating the police and creating divisiveness. … [We’re] talking about love, peace and unity, and helping build a bridge and letting our law enforcement officers know that all we’re asking you to do is hold your people accountable.”

For the event’s young organizers, that message was unmistakable.

“As soon as we planned it, the next day we heard about Philando’s killing, and we knew we had to kick it into high gear, because we need our voices heard,” the 17-year-old Hall said. “Even though it was silent, it really made a statement. [Alton and Philando’s] voices are now silent, and we can’t let them die in vain.”

They now have one more local voice to speak for.

Hours before the march, police fatally shot a black man in north Sacramento after officers said the man charged at them with a knife. That man has yet to be identified, but his death has prompted community calls for a full investigation.