Lawsuit: Sacramento police uses force against racial justice protests but ignores Proud Boys

·5 min read

A community activist is suing Sacramento police over its officers’ response to racial justice protests last year, alleging that its officers roughed up Black Lives Matter supporters and others while ignoring assaults on protesters by white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday night in federal court in Sacramento, Meg White claims she has suffered serious injuries caused by police while observing various protests in Sacramento in 2020 and 2021.

“Ms. White, a 34-year-old Black woman who runs a grassroots community group in Sacramento, was severely injured by the Sacramento police while observing counter-protests in late 2020 and early 2021,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. White witnessed law enforcement’s pattern of restraining and assaulting counter-protesters while permitting Stop the Steal protesters and members of the white supremacist organization, the Proud Boys, to move freely even when wielding weapons like large knives and mace.

“Sacramento police assaulted Ms. White directly when she tried to help others who were attacked by the Proud Boys, and when she asked police for their help. As a result of police violence, Ms. White suffered severe bruising, chronic knee and hip pain, chemical burns, and a shoulder injury so significant that it left her unable to raise her arm.”

Sacramento police declined Wednesday to comment on pending litigation, but the suit is the latest to stem from the protests that swept through the capital region following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.

“In the days and weeks following Mr. Floyd’s killing, protests against police violence and in support of police accountability erupted across the world, including in Sacramento,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by a team of lawyers, including Tifanei Ressl-Moyer of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Denver.

“The Sacramento Police Department responded with outsized and unequal force against anti-racist and anti-police brutality protesters, while permitting persons who aligned with pro-police (including Blue Lives Matter) ideologies to demonstrate unharmed. This disparate treatment is consistent with a years-long pattern and practice of discrimination on the part of Sacramento.”

White, who runs an organization called Justice Unites Individuals and Communities Everywhere, or JUICE Sacramento, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, but her attorney said the claims against Sacramento police have been made by various protesters.

“It’s very clear that the repercussions of the Sacramento Police Department’s actions are still having dramatic impacts on people who experienced it,” Ressl-Moyer said in a phone interview. “And it’s important for the police department and the city to respond appropriately and to make sure that justice is seen for people who are harmed.

“The police department in the past has tried to paint this as a very chaotic and messy situation, but the experience of people who went out on these streets to protest police violence and racism, their stories are very consistent.”

The lawsuit recounts the recent history of protests in Sacramento following the slaying of Stephon Clark by two Sacramento police officers in 2018 and the mass arrest of 84 protesters in March 2019 in East Sacramento’s Fabulous 40s neighborhood after police “kettled” or herded protesters into a small area cordoned off by officers.

“Right-wing protesters and white supremacists, by contrast, have not endured the violent treatment that anti-racist and anti-police brutality protesters have consistently received,” the lawsuit says, adding that White has “observed protests against police brutality throughout Sacramento including as part of her work with JUICE.”

Nehemiah “Nuk Nuk” Johnson, left, with Justice Unites Individuals & Communities Everywhere of Sacramento, speaks at the Black Lives Matter Sacramento protest in front of the Richards Police Facility on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.
Nehemiah “Nuk Nuk” Johnson, left, with Justice Unites Individuals & Communities Everywhere of Sacramento, speaks at the Black Lives Matter Sacramento protest in front of the Richards Police Facility on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.

“In late 2020, Ms. White went to observe the counter-protests in Sacramento against white supremacist and right-wing organizers,” the suit says. “Having heard that such groups were perpetrating attacks on the surrounding community, Ms. White, who has CPR and first aid training, had hoped to provide aid to community members who were harmed by the white supremacist groups.

“Unfortunately, SPD assaulted Ms. White while she attempted to provide aid. She also observed SPD lending their tacit approval to the white supremacist attacks on the community, as officers stood by and did nothing to help. On or about November 21, 2020, Ms. White was handing out winter clothing to unhoused persons in Cesar Chavez Park when she saw a group that appeared to be part of the Proud Boys attack and beat a woman.

“The woman was carrying Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride flags. The attack occurred in full view of Sacramento police officers, who did not intervene. Seeing the officers do nothing, Ms. White attempted to assist the woman by providing her cover. A Sacramento police officer then rushed toward Ms. White and the woman she was trying to aid. The officer violently grabbed and tossed Ms. White to the ground with such force that it caused bruising. The officer also threatened to arrest Ms. White if she did not immediately leave the area.”

The suit cites other, similar incidents, the latest occurring Jan. 21 at L and 10th streets where she was observing an anti-racist counter protest.

“The SPD kettled a small group of counter-protesters with a much larger group of individuals who appeared to be associated with the Proud Boys and white supremacist groups,” the suit says. “While in the kettle, one such person punched an anti-racist counter protester in the face.

“Ms. White attempted to assist the victim, but an SPD officer sprayed the victim and Ms. White with a chemical agent (including in Ms. White’s eyes). The chemical agent caused Ms. White, who wears contact lenses and has sensitive skin, severe pain and cough.”

The suit says that in addition to physical injuries, she has lost wages from being unable to work and “has suffered significant emotional distress.”

“Ms. White also feels exhausted, experiences nightmares, and feels unsafe in her own home,” the suit says. “She struggles to eat and experiences flashbulb memories that can be debilitating. She suffers from shock, anxiety, and insomnia to this day.”

Other protesters have filed suit over officers’ use of rubber bullets and other forms of force during the protests, and a class-action lawsuit filed by Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin over the Fab 40s mass arrest was settled with the city agreeing to pay out more than $500,000.

Meg White, right, of Sacramento, helps facilitate adding ideas for prison reform to a list as protesters continued rallying against police brutality and racial injustice into the evening at Cesar E. Chavez Plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020, in Sacramento.
Meg White, right, of Sacramento, helps facilitate adding ideas for prison reform to a list as protesters continued rallying against police brutality and racial injustice into the evening at Cesar E. Chavez Plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020, in Sacramento.
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