The ICE fan cometh

Someone working inside the California Employment Development Department confronts Occupy ICE demonstrators, steals their sign

Sacramento police officers push protestors away from the ICE office July 31.

Sacramento police officers push protestors away from the ICE office July 31.

Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the August 9, 2018, issue.

From police ripping down protest camps to activists starting hunger strikes, the demonstration against a Trump-led Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has been causing plenty of tension on Sacramento streets the past two weeks. Now, with hungry protestors still staked out in front of a federal immigration building on Capitol Mall, some are wondering whether a mysterious state government worker who’s allegedly harassed and intimidated them will be back for another round.

The Occupy ICE movement started July 26 at the corner of N and Seventh streets, where activists lined up a number of tents in front of the fenced office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which staffs local ICE agents. Police and protesters clashed immediately, with authorities warning demonstrators they were in violation of the city’s ban on urban camping and demonstrators tying the local policy and national family separation debacle to historical injustices.

In explaining the reasoning for the “ongoing” occupation, organizers wrote that it was taking place in a city erected on tribal lands and in front of an ICE office that helped gentrify the surrounding neighborhood.

“We come together to not only demand the reuniting of children with their parents and the abolition of ICE and of all cages but to actively take steps to dismantle them and the systems they serve,” Occupy ICE Sacto wrote in an email distributed to media. “Another world is possible; we only have to build it.”

Not everyone agreed. Multiple demonstrators reported bizarre run-ins with a California Employment Development Department employee incensed by their civil disobedience. Longtime activist David Andre was among the first to make contact. On July 27, Andre started videoing four men who were standing around the encampment in plain clothes, some of whom appeared to be armed.

“I noticed one guy had a holster on, and we don’t allow any weapons here,” Andre recalled, “so I was trying to figure out are they with Homeland Security or are they some kind of alt-right guys who are going to come in here and shoot up the place.”

Andre was still filming when a fifth man in a handlebar mustache and Moto Guzzi T-shirt entered his frame, stopping near Andre’s shoulder to inspect the protest camp.

“Are they impressing you?” one demonstrator can be heard asking the unknown man.

“Well, I can’t do this, I can’t just go stand on public property, put a tent up, start shitting everywhere,” the man replies in the video, “putting up stupid signs that are offensive to everybody.”

“I didn’t realize there was shit everywhere,” the protestor responds.

“Well you are—you’re here,” the man quips.

At that point, Andre started filming the exchange, which he was legally entitled to do in public.

“Get that thing out of my face,” the man barks as he thrust his palm in Andre’s face, forcing him backwards. At that point, Cres Vellucci, a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild’s Sacramento chapter, steps between the two and tells the stranger, “You realize that’s assault.”

The man appears to walk away as two police officers approach. But the drama wasn’t over.

According to four witnesses, the stranger returned July 30 to the anti-ICE encampment. Sioux Collumbe, another lawyers guild observer who’d witnessed the earlier dust-up, began filming the man. Collumbe says he beelined aggressively toward her. Collumbe says she immediately flagged two police officers, prompting the man to bolt back across Seventh Street. Then Collumbe saw him come back and steal one of the protestor’s signs, hurrying over to the EDD office with it. Several demonstrators followed and were reportedly told by a security officer at EDD’s door that the man’s first name was Michael and that he’s an independent contractor for EDD.

Collumbe is currently trying to ascertain Michael’s last name in order to file a complaint.

“While he’s working for a state agency, he’s out stealing property and then putting stolen property on EDD’s property,” Collumbe told SN&R.

Officials from Cal EDD declined to identify the employee or comment on having stolen property on state premises.

The next afternoon, the ICE protestors heard a whiz in the air as around 15 police officers on bicycles swiftly turned the corner, dismounted and formed a Roman-style phalanx with their 10-speeds. “Cameras on!” one officer shouted as they tapped their chests in unison. Seconds later they were pushing the protestors back as different officers dismantled their camp for violating the city’s anti-camping ordinance.

For Randy Simonsen, who’d been protesting at Sacramento’s ICE office for days in his wheelchair, it’s that common thread of shared humanity that’s kept him outside in the heat.

“It’s never come to a head in any of the 64 years I’ve been on the planet, so I can’t figure out why it’s come to a head now, to where we’re separating mothers and children,” Simonsen said of U.S. policy. “This is simply about cruelty to people.” Ω