For nearly two months, repeated clashes between far-right groups and antifa-aligned counter-protesters have led to violence in the streets of Sacramento.
The brawls and beatings have occurred on the outskirts of weekly protests held by Trump supporters near the Capitol, promoting the conspiracy theory that Democrats stole the presidential election. While the protests themselves have been largely peaceful, far-right groups like the Proud Boys have routinely left the main demonstrations to confront counter-protesters in the streets downtown.
It takes seconds for things to escalate to violence. pic.twitter.com/5wHa6Fvn4G— Scott Rodd (@SRodd_CPR) November 8, 2020
Police and local officials have condemned the ongoing violence, though it’s taken some leaders weeks to address the incidents publicly. They say quashing confrontations is complicated by the need to preserve nonviolent protesters’ First Amendment rights.
But after the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol this week, incited by the words of President Donald Trump, Sacramento leaders are facing greater pressure to figure out how to quell the ongoing violence and hold perpetrators accountable, lest the upheaval in Washington D.C. resurface in California’s capital.
CapRadio has confirmed some members of local Proud Boys chapters, who regularly show up at Sacramento demonstrations, have attended recent violent demonstrations in Washington D.C. That includes the one that led to the insurrection on Wednesday — though there’s no indication whether any of them participated in storming the U.S. Capitol building.
In a recent tweet, highlighting the arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio in Washington D.C., Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg stated: “Commit violent acts and you will be held accountable.”
In an interview with the mayor, CapRadio pointed out that the same violent perpetrators have been observed at the Capitol week after week, seemingly without consequence.
“That is a fair question,” Steinberg said, noting that police investigations can take time to complete and result in an arrest. “But where they can clearly identify someone who is engaged in violent action, you better believe that those people ought to be held accountable.”
Steinberg is now calling for a public hearing at a City Council meeting in the coming weeks to address the violence involving far-right groups and examine the Sacramento Police Department’s response.
Residents Confused, Scared
The violence has left some Sacramento residents frightful, especially those living downtown. Others are baffled over how the violence has been able to continue, week after week, by the same groups.
“It leaves this uneasy feeling for me, frankly,” said Steve McCready, a Sacramento resident of over 20 years who has followed coverage of the protests. “Anybody who is going into downtown or midtown [should] feel like they can be safe.”
Brawl breaks out after some scuffles pic.twitter.com/g7xOWITXxP— Scott Rodd (@SRodd_CPR) November 21, 2020
Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, who assumed office in December, says she’s heard similar concerns from her District 4 constituents.
She says free speech must be protected, but argues law enforcement needs to take swifter action to hold violent perpetrators accountable.
“Even if I don't like what white supremacist groups are saying, they are entitled to say what they believe,” she said. “However, violence is absolutely not OK, and what I'm hoping to see is a much more proactive reaction when violence is occurring.”
At a recent City Council meeting, Valenzuela requested a report from police on their crowd control tactics and how they handled outbreaks of violence during recent pro-Trump demonstrations.
Steinberg agrees there are free speech protections that have to be observed.
“We don't have the power as a city ... to prevent people from coming into our city to protest,” Steinberg said.
He added that police can be put in a “no-win situation” when they step in to stop clashes.
“You go away and just let them do what they're going to do, the violence is going to be worse,” he said. “If you intervene actively ... in some ways the risk of escalation and more violence is also great.”
Condemnation From Law Enforcement
Within a few weeks of the presidential election, as the recurring violence percolated downtown, Sacramento Police tweeted that the incidents were straining the department.
“Hundreds of SPD officers, including homicide detectives, gang detectives, community outreach officers, and police dispatchers have been redeployed from their primary assignments to monitor these protests,” the department said in a release.
On CapRadio’s Insight, Police Chief Daniel Hahn said his department was striving to curb violence, while not stepping on the protected rights of protesters.
“As long as they’re protesting — legitimately protesting — then they have every right to do that, we want to support that,” Hahn said. He added, “but a lot of groups that people are talking about are not protesters. They came down there to commit violence.”
The department appears to be taking a more active approach to separating clashing groups and detaining violent actors at recent events.
Police have erected barricades around the main demonstrations next to the Capitol in an attempt to keep counter-protesters away from Trump supporters and to keep Proud Boys from instigating confrontations in the street.
Some of the initial demonstrations resulted in no arrests, despite brawls breaking out. During the most recent protest on Wednesday, which saw less violence than in previous weeks, police made 11 arrests for possession of pepper spray and one for a baton.
But some critics claim police acted more aggressively in response to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer — many of which were peaceful, though some resulted in widespread property damage. The same observations have been made about the police response in D.C.
Steinberg said he plans to discuss this topic at the upcoming public hearing.
Other local law enforcement leaders have also weighed in, condemning the recent violence and underscoring the need to hold lawbreakers accountable.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones declined to comment on the law enforcement response from the city and Capitol police, stating it would be inappropriate to comment on another agency’s jurisdiction. But he said he denounces the recent actions of violent far-right groups, similar to how he denounced destructive actions by far-left groups in Sacramento last year.
“There is NEVER an excuse to vandalize, threaten, fight with officers, commit acts of violence, etc.,” Jones wrote in an email. “It cannot be excused depending on your philosophy. One cannot condone (or acquiesce in) the actions over the last few months and feign outrage over what happened yesterday” at the U.S. Capitol.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert — who last year called antifa demonstrators a “domestic terrorist” organization — said she would prosecute anyone who commits acts of violence.
“I condemn all groups who engage in violence in the name of ‘protest,’ including the Proud Boys and any others who hijack peaceful demonstrations for their own purposes,” she said.
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