SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As a kid growing up in the South Side of Chicago, Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross showed signs of his future career. He said his mom noticed him preaching to friends in his backyard.
Once he became a pastor, Rev. Ross dreamed of one day forming a multicultural congregation like one of his inspirations – Howard Thurman, who led a diverse church back in the 1940s, in San Francisco.
“I moved to Sacramento because of what I felt the promise of diversity and inclusion could be as a microcosm for the macrocosm,” Ross told ABC10.
That was nine years ago. He’s now the pastor of Unity of Sacramento. But on Monday, Ross was dismayed by what he perceived as a major injustice and setback.
Ross was among the 84 protesters arrested that night, toward the end of the Stephon Clark march through East Sacramento. They were protesting District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s decision, announced two days earlier on Saturday, not to criminally charge the two officers who shot and killed 22-year-old Clark nearly a year ago.
The protest started off around 6:30 p.m. heated and passionate – but peaceful.
Later, police said they received reports of several vandalized cars. That's when they started ordering the crowd to disperse or face arrest, chemical agents or electrical devices.
Around 9:15 p.m. Monday, protesters had returned to their starting point, Trader Joe's on Folsom Boulevard. Shortly after that, police and sheriff's deputies in riot gear started pushing the remaining protesters south on 51st Street and ultimately onto the overpass over U.S. 50, where most of the 84 arrests were made.
That’s a number Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn called “unusual” at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
"As the capital city of California, we have a lot of protests weekly, if not daily in a lot of times, and there's no doubt that this protest ended differently than the vast majority of the protests that we have,” Hahn told city council members and Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “The fact that there was numerous people arrested at the end -- that is not typical in our city.”
Rev. Ross spoke at that same city council meeting Tuesday, some 17 hours after he and the other protesters were released from police custody.
“We witnessed law enforcement trap us on a bridge as we raised our hands, showing that we were in surrender and cooperating. What in the hell was that about last night?!” he exclaimed before the council, mayor and a packed chamber. “We were severely failed last night, and last night was the shame of the nation.”
On Friday, DA Schubert announced she was dropping charges against the 84 protesters, who were charged with Unlawful Assembly. A ticket Ross received early Tuesday morning described his citation as “failure to disperse.”
"I am grateful that the charges have been dropped against the peaceful protesters, who should not have been arrested in the first place,” Ross told ABC10 in an interview Friday, adding, however, that this “is not a victory, and it really should not be celebrated as a victory because the charges should not have been made, and so we’re still where we were (before the protest); we’re just a little more traumatized.”
He said he wants whoever made the decisions that night to be identified, held accountable and apologize - and for changes to be made for policing future protests.
"The charges being dropped is insufficient without the acknowledgment that this was cruel,” Ross said.
The dropped charges also do little to foster healing in the wake of the DA's decision not to charge the officers who killed Clark, Ross said.
"We are already a wounded community, a community in mourning, a community in pain, and so to have the charge to begin with was insult to injury,” Ross said. "I don't think it will relieve Sacramentans from lingering suspicions that we might have about our safety and our well-being and about how certain people in this city are valued."
Those arrested were taken in police vans to Cal Expo, where they were processed and released. A group of supporters awaited them – outside the main gates to the California State Fair – with water, food and rides home.
ABC10 was there that early morning and spoke with Ross then.
“The demonstration had been complete, and so we were thinking we were moving away from the area, following the directions of the law enforcement officers," Ross explained, fresh from Sac PD custody. "As we moved across that bridge, we were met, flanked on the other side, by another group of officers, and we were trapped.”
Reflecting on that night now, Ross said, he remembers that trapped feeling.
“I remember being in pain from the zip-ties on my hands," he said, "and to be quite honest with you, I had flashes of what it must have been like to be in that Middle Passage. I had flashes of this inability to be free.”
Changing the status quo isn’t easy, Ross said, for any group fighting for rights – and protesters are aware of that.
“No one is stepping into these moments unaware of the dangers, but we did not expect (these results) in my wildest imaginations, after having spent time dialoguing with law enforcement on a regular basis, talking about ways that we feel our law enforcement would be better received by our communities,” Ross said.
Protesters want the two officers who killed Stephon Clark to be fired. They also want legislation passed that would make stricter standards for when police can and cannot use deadly force. They’re supporting Assembly Bill 392, which aims to do that.
"Something has to change in the soul and the hearts of those who make decisions about how these things are carried out,” Ross said. "But until then, we have to have laws."
Also on Friday, the Sacramento Police Department released its report on what happened at Monday’s protest.
“The group of protesters blocked access to a hospital in the area,” it says. “Multiple vehicles were vandalized during the protest."
Sac PD says officers gave 30 dispersal orders via loudspeakers in less than two hours.
"Some participants left the area, however, a large group remained," the report says. "In the interest of community safety, protection of property and after multiple requests to disperse were made, officers proceeded with an orderly arrest process."
“In reading the report, I was unable to locate any justifiable evidence for the clear overreaction of the officers, their aggression and their excessive use of force,” Rev. Ross told ABC10. “Unfortunately, this report reinforces my perspective that the police escalated the situation to a level of violence unnecessarily.”
Ross said he still has “persistent hope” for this city he specifically chose nearly a decade ago for its diversity and inclusion.
“I don’t want my dream-come-true to become my worst nightmare by acts like these,” he said. “We are sincerely here to help build that Beloved Community.”
Continue the conversation with Becca on Facebook.
There were plenty of heated exchanges following a Monday protest that resulted in the arrests of 84 people. Leadership heard nearly four hours of public comment from many people addressing the response that night.