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Police Violence and a Safe Black Space

Dr. Kristee Haggins is an African-centered psychologist who facilitates Sacramento’s Safe Black Space: Community Healing Circles by and for People of African Ancestry. Black community outrage in California’s capital city is an apt word for the district attorney’s decision to condone the police killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American man. The email interview below is an effort to amplify underreported aspects of how militarized policing affects nonwhites in the U.S.

Seth Sandronsky: What is the psychological toll on black and brown folks after Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert decided not to criminally charge the two police officers who shot and killed unarmed Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African-African male, in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018?

Kristee Haggins: The psychological impact has been one of anger, disappointment, frustration and rage for many people.  While some expected this outcome—given the law, it still feels like a “slap in the face” especially in terms of how Stephon Clark and his personal life was put on trial during the report process. Black people are tired of feeling as though their lives simply do not matter – both locally here in Sacramento and beyond.  Stephon Clark did not deserve to die.  Period.  Many in the Black community are carrying the pain and anguish of his murder, along with so many others who have died at the hands of police violence – without consequences.

SS: What is your sense of the March 5 Sacramento City Council meeting and the community’s reaction in real time to the DA’s report clearing the police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark?

KH: I was able to watch the DA’s report live on March 2 with a few other African American community members and leaders and am glad I had that support and we had each other.  The sentiments I described above were some of the reactions present in the room that day, along with
others. The March 4 peaceful protest that resulted in the arrests of nearly 85 people only exacerbated these types of emotions and with good reason. People reported being trapped by the police on a bridge, unable to leave and then subsequently arrested with batons and bikes used to corral, contain and control them.  During the City Council meeting on March 5 many community members described being traumatized by the arrests and found the circumstances reminiscent of the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Our local situation was one in which youth, women, clergy, among other community members, were marching to express their discontent. What was communicated to them was—your voice doesn’t
matter, you don’t matter, you’re in the wrong neighborhood, and a militarized response is necessary.  At the City Council meeting emotions ran high as people told their stories.  You could see the passion and pain of the people.

SS: What are your thoughts on the report from Xavier Becerra, the state Attorney General, about Clark’s killing?

KH: Similar to the DA’s report.  It feels as though Stephon Clark’s death was in vain.  This was another slap in the face.  There’s a feeling of a loss and of hope,  yet also a renewed commitment to continue to support the family and the community.

SS: What is the meaning of the Sacramento City Police Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol arresting 84 people at the March 4 nonviolent protest over Clark’s death at the hands of the police?

KH: I spoke to this in a previous response but will add that although I was not present at the March 4 nonviolent protest, I heard from the testimony of many community members at the City Council Meeting on March 5th that the number of responders present and the actions of the officers were inappropriate, over the top, and an abuse of power.  This primarily African American group of protestors described being restrained with zip ties and having to sit in the rain after being arrested until the early morning hours.  Some people were bruised, wrists cut from the restraints, one person’s ankle was broken and another’s shoulder was injured. This occurred as the march was coming to a close and people described trying to retreat as ordered.  These injuries were a result of the actions of those meant to “protect and serve” but that was not what was experienced. People felt terrorized and traumatized.  The physical injuries were accompanied by mental health or psychological responses although these may not always be spoken about.  We heard of someone hyperventilating that night, experiencing a panic attack without being offered assistance by law enforcement.  Others were overwhelmed or crying uncontrollably, while some experienced intense fear. Because of this encounter, the already tense relationship between the community and the police has justifiably intensified. There is huge disappointment and anger at the response of law enforcement on Monday evening as well as at the City Council meeting. At the March 5 meeting Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn was not able to answer questions about what occurred the night before—stating a review of body cameras and other reports was needed.  This tension was exacerbated when later during that meeting, police officers advanced with batons drawn, after a speaker exceeded his time to speak and became upset and emotional in his responses.  The energy in the room intensified for almost a half hour -until it was acknowledged that what was happening in that very moment was in itself  traumatizing/re-traumatizing especially for those who had been arrested less than 24 hours before!

SS: Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) have introduced AB392 to limit police violence, which law enforcement groups oppose, at the state Capitol. How do you see AB392?

KH: I believe AB392, the bill that allows police to use deadly force only when it’s necessary to prevent injury or death is one change that will address some of the concerns with the killing of black and brown people by law enforcement. Having the legal backing in instances like what happened with Stephon Clark, can provide some sense of relief in ensuring justice may be served. We have much work to do in shifting laws that do not serve Black people and in addressing the inherent, institutional and historical racism that is still present today.  In addition to legal implications, there are profound shifts needed in how we see, treat, and understand the experiences of Black people in the U.S., in our state and in our city. Intentional efforts to address implicit bias, racism and oppression, and its consequences for both the targeted and privileged groups is necessary. As we begin to truly protect all lives equally and legally, and we truly  value all lives equally – including Black lives, then we will be moving toward a world that truly works for everyone.

SS: Thank you for your time.

KH: Thank you for the opportunity. I invite people who identify as being Black and have been impacted by racial stress and trauma to check out the Safe Black Space website and consider coming to an upcoming Safe Black Space Community Healing Circle. www.safeblackspace.org. In addition, I encourage everyone to use local community resources and tap into their personal support systems in order to take care of themselves right now.

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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