SACRAMENTO — The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area submitted a demand letter to the City of Sacramento this morning urging the City to drop all charges against individuals for violating the City’s June 1 curfew order. Seventy-two individuals were arrested and charged for violating the order, which imposed a sweeping ban on public assembly, free expression in all public forums, and movement for most Sacramento residents between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. from June 1 to June 7.
The individuals charged face fines for violating the curfew order and appallingly high bail amounts for being charged with crimes related to violating the order. Both have disproportionately impacted low-income people who are already struggling to make ends meet, including unhoused individuals who were not exempted from the order.
“We are requesting the City of Sacramento drop all charges, including all associated fines and fees. The City must also address the outrageous bail obligations imposed on people who were arrested as a result of the unreasonable curfew order,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “If the City of Sacramento refuses to do so, we will fight against the enforcement of the unconstitutional order and offer representation to every single individual who unfairly received a citation.”
The weeklong curfew order was preceded by excessive amounts of force and police brutality in response to largely peaceful demonstrations. Five hundred National Guard troops were deployed to control protesters. Law enforcement authorities used tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper bullets, and other “non-lethal” methods to disperse crowds at protests. Protesters incurred significant injuries, including a permanently blinded eye and a broken jaw. Following this, the curfew order granted law enforcement even greater power to interfere with protesters’ rights.
The demand letter asserts that the curfew order violated freedom of speech, freedom of movement, contained insufficient notice, was unconstitutionally vague, and disproportionately harmed the Black community.
“If the City is claiming to stand with Black people, criminalizing their protected free speech cannot coexist with Black liberation. Black activists have led and organized a movement to demand justice regarding police murder and it was met with government-sanctioned resistance,” said Abre’ Conner, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “The City should not continue to use this opportunity to create additional barriers to Black activists’ work. Dropping the charges and removing excessive fees to an unconstitutional curfew order is critical to ensuring the City is actually listening to Black voices.”
The demand letter represents Black Lives Matter Sacramento, the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, and Katherine Martinez Orellana and has the support of community organizations, including the Official Sacramento Activists, Anti Police-Terror Project, AYA: A Radical Black Healing Collaborative, Black Zebra Productions, and other Black journalists, media, and activists.
Additionally, the 72 protesters were arrested and subject to the unsanitary, unsafe conditions of incarceration, which has proven to be a hotbed for contracting and spreading coronavirus. Individuals seeking to exercise their right to protest police violence became subject to the grave risk of illness and even death from the virus at a time when California is working to release prisoners for this very reason.
“The recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and so many other instances of violence against Black Americans have made it impossible to ignore the systemic racism in our country,” said Margaret Webb of Morrison & Foerster, who advised in the drafting of the demand letter.
“People nationwide have responded to these horrific events by demonstrating peacefully against racial injustice and policy brutality against Black members of our community, as a way of expressing their outrage and hurt. The City of Sacramento should stand up for free speech and support Black activists by dropping all charges related to purported violations of the curfew order that served only to quell political protests.”
Read the full demand letter here.