by Mark T. Harris, Esq., special to California Black Media Partners
“Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier ‘n puttin’ it back in.” – Will Rogers
Shocking. Shameful. Unconscionable. Intolerable. These are just a few of the terms used in reaction to word that a 12-year-old child was recently restrained by Sacramento police officers who then placed a white plastic bag over his head and shoulders. Let’s review recent events in the City of Sacramento, which many are now referring to as “SacraSelma” in reference to the civil rights struggles that emanated from Selma, Alabama, during the civil rights battles of the turbulent 1960s.
First, Sacramento police mysteriously apprehended an unarmed Mr. Daizon Flenaugh, who was detained without any legal basis. He wound up dead within 30 minutes of being detained by Sacramento police officers.
Next was the late Mr. Joseph Mann, who was guilty of nothing more than screaming at police officers and throwing a plastic water bottle at them prior to his being gunned down on the streets of Sacramento.
Following that was an unarmed Mr. Nandi Cain Jr., who was beaten by a Sacramento police officer for ostensibly “jaywalking” when it turned out Mr. Cain appropriately crossed the street from one corner to another.
Finally, and most dramatically, came the assassination of Mr. Stephon Clark, who was the victim of a barrage of Sacramento police gunfire while being guilty of nothing more than entering his grandmother’s home with a cellphone in his hands.
Now Sacramento residents are dismayed by word that a 12-year-old child, who stands 4-feet-10-inches tall and weighs fewer than 100 pounds, was inappropriately constrained by police officers and had a bag placed over his head to “shut him up,” according to witnesses on the scene during the incident. At the time this occurred, the child was pleading for officers to “call my mom” and telling officers that he “could not breathe!”
The young victim was born with significant upper respiratory complications and according to his mother and grandmother, suffered from breathing difficulties particularly when anxious. It did not help the child’s respiratory condition that officers grasped his neck, placed him on the ground, handcuffed him with his hands behind his back, placed a knee in his back and forced his face into the asphalt.
Many Sacramento residents are wondering when this madness is going to end. We were told that our “new” African-American chief of police would be the one to put an end to the oppressive and at times deadly behavior patterns of what we were told were merely a few rogue “bad apples” in an otherwise fine police department.
Let me say this. Our police chief is “blue” and not Black. In addition, it appears to many of us that when you have as many incidents of questionable police conduct directed towards one singular demographic group, within an entire community, the “cat needs to be let out of the bag.” The Sacramento police department appears to be representative of a “bad orchard” as opposed to a few “bad apples.”
Let there be no mistake. Shooting and killing an unarmed Black woman, who professed to be pregnant in Houston, Texas, or “bagging” a small in stature 12-year-old in Sacramento must be called out for what it is. These actions are more reflective of the practices of “slave catchers” and “Jim Crow” era law enforcers than of proper urban policing techniques focused on de-escalation and by governments truly committed to empower police officers to “protect and to serve” our entire community.
Mark T. Harris is a tenured lecturer and director of Pre-Law Studies at the University of California, Merced. Additionally, Professor Harris heads the Sacramento and Central Valley office of Ben Crump Law and his specialty is civil rights law. He can be reached at email@example.com.