Canceling the SAMMIES event

The show will not go on after artists’ boycott and lagging sponsorships doom annual local music showcase

SpaceWalker, seen here at the 2017 SAMMIES awards ceremony, is boycotting this year’s event.

SpaceWalker, seen here at the 2017 SAMMIES awards ceremony, is boycotting this year’s event.

Photo by jeannie mcloed

The Boycott SN&R and Anti-SAMMIES events will be March 14–15 at 7 p.m. at the Blue Lamp (1400 Alhambra Boulevard). Black Lives Matter Sacramento will collect sliding scale donations of $5-$10 at the door for families of victims of police violence.

After 25 years, the Sacramento News & Review is canceling the live music show associated with the SAMMIES, an annual showcase for local musicians. The decision was made after at least 20 nominated performers denounced their nominations following criticism the newspaper has received since publishing the December 14, 2017, cover story “Confessions of a killer cop,” about a fired Sacramento police officer and the African-American man he shot to death.

The article chronicled the lives of John Tennis, an Army veteran with a history of violent encounters on the police force, and Joseph Mann, a former college-radio deejay and state employee who struggled with drug use and his mother’s death.

Moments after responding to a weapons call in July 2016 in North Sacramento, Tennis tried to run Mann over with his patrol car twice. Tennis and then-partner Randy Lozoya exited the vehicle and confronted Mann, who was holding a knife on a sidewalk when the two officers shot Mann 14 times.

The article revealed that the Police Department terminated Tennis for violating its use of force policy in killing Mann, and was under an internal investigation at the time of the shooting.

Aside from the story itself, outcry has been aimed at the cover image—featuring Tennis in the Superman T-shirt he wore to the scheduled photo shoot. SN&R’s response to the criticism, particularly the tagging of local activists on the newspaper’s Facebook page, has also drawn an angry response.

We are really boycotting SN&R as a whole because of how they have been tone-deaf in their response to the backlash they received from the article,” said Black Arts Matter founder Mone’t Ha-sidi. “I was one of the activists tagged by the editor when they wrote their response [on Facebook]. I thought it was irresponsible and it would also make those a target for people who are more on the ‘blue lives matter’ side of things.”

Ha-sidi said she didn’t receive any threats due to the Facebook tag. SN&R editor Eric Johnson said the tags were removed shortly after the post.

“I understand that caused them a lot of distress and I feel terrible about that,” Johnson said. “A person in my position should have known that the rules have changed regarding Facebook tagging by institutions like newspapers.”

Ha-sidi and Black Lives Matter Sacramento chapter founder Tanya Faison recently teamed up with Gabriell Garcia, co-owner of Blue Lamp, to protest the SAMMIES with two nights of live music and performances.

“I know it was hard for the artists to denounce their nominations and I wanted them to know they had support and a place to play still,” Garcia said. “I just hope that it rings loud in the community and within our local media that the people still hold the power.”

Jointly, the events are known as Boycott SN&R and the Anti-SAMMIES, with the latter taking place on March 15, the day the SAMMIES show was scheduled at Ace of Spades. What started out as a fundraiser for the Mann family will now raise money for other local families who have suffered from police violence, organizers said.

The Mann family hasn’t been contacted by organizers.

SpaceWalker, Jonah Matranga and Sparks Across Darkness will be among those performing the first night, with the second night dedicated to black artists.

For Faison, the event is about more than the SAMMIES. She wants to see SN&R devote more in-depth coverage to black victims of police violence.

“We want those citizens’ faces that have been killed by police on the cover and we want their families heard,” said Faison, who organized a protest outside SN&R’s office last month. “If they can do it for a white guy, they can do it for all these black victims because right now Sacramento is killing more black people than they are killing white people.”

Faison said BLM Sacramento is currently working with eight families whose loved ones have experienced police violence. The chapter’s website lists Ryan Ellis, Desmond Phillips, Mikel McIntyre and other individuals.

SN&R publisher Jeff vonKaenel says the community response is exactly the type of discussion he wants his newspaper to elevate.

“Within the pages of the paper there should be a dialogue with different parts of the community,” vonKaenel said. “That’s the only way we can have a synthesis of views that can create real policy and social change.”

He said the event was created to support the local music scene, but has operated at a financial loss. He said some sponsorships for this year’s showcase didn’t line up; when the protests were announced, that pushed the 2018 SAMMIES over the edge. Voting for this year’s contest will continue, culminating with an expanded local music issue.

Johnson said he used the controversy as an opportunity to initiate conversations with activists and artists, including The Philharmonik, who met with Johnson after initially turning down his SAMMIES nomination. He is back on the ballot, but not satisfied.

“When we encounter problems we discuss how to move things forward in a way that is mutually [beneficial],” The Philharmonik wrote in an email to SN&R. “However, a meeting proves only words, actions prove progress.”