'Race, peace, justice, and the death of Stephon Clark.' Read text of Mayor Steinberg's State of the City
On Tuesday, February 19, Mayor Darrell Steinberg delivered his annual State of the City speech at the Pannell Community Center in Meadowview. The full text follows:
I remember in my early days on the City Council in the 90’s watching Sam and later Bonnie Pannell fight for their district, and in particular – for Meadowview. In their own unique ways, they insisted that our city can not, must not, have some neighborhoods with all the amenities and opportunities, and other neighborhoods with virtually nothing.
Watching their efforts and the creation of what is now known as the Pannell Community Center was for me an early and tangible example of what happens when city government and community leadership combine forces to inject hope into forgotten neighborhoods.
Last year, I delivered my annual State of the City address at the Memorial Auditorium downtown and hosted the sponsors’ breakfast at Lucca. It was a great experience. I had the chance to explain why inclusive or neighborhood-based economic development must be our city’s priority. It was the beginning of our ultimately successful Measure U campaign.
This year, I chose the Pannell Community Center in Meadowview. The sponsors’ breakfast finished just a few moments ago at the IHOP down the street. The food and company were great.
This is the first State of the City address in recent memory outside the downtown core. The choice is intentional.
There is no more important venue to hold this year’s State of the City address than Meadowview. For even if Meadowview and our entire city had not lived through the profound events of the past year, I know I would have chosen one of Sacramento’s great neighborhoods for this annual rite. What I speak about today is not just about Meadowview but ALL the Sacramento neighborhoods that rightfully demand our attention.
I love the downtown. But the core of the city is broader than downtown. The core of our city isn’t just about geography; it’s about people and it's about values.
There is strength everywhere in our city. The view from Mack Road is as important as the view from J Street. And the life chances of a third grader growing up in one zip code should be no less than those of a third grader growing up in another.
Traditionally, this speech is an opportunity to lay out all the great achievements in our city and many more to be accomplished. The truth is, there are many things to celebrate about the last year and the arc of our changing Sacramento. You know what they are -- and we fought hard to achieve them. Thank you for those victories.
But this would not be an honest speech about the state of our city if we did not today, in this place, at this moment, talk about race, peace, justice, and the death of Stephon Clark.
The shooting of Stephon Clark, less than a mile from where we gather this morning, did not create this moment. But it undoubtedly intensified and elevated the movement by ripping open deep wounds in our past.
How do I as your Mayor give voice to the pain that is so real and so raw in our community? How do I as a relatively privileged white man let my suffering community members know they do not suffer alone -- that their elected leaders are genuinely committed to change? How do I step into your shoes?
I start by saying and meaning the only thing I know that matters to Stephon’s family and many in our community:
I am deeply sorry for what happened to Stephon.
I am deeply sorry for the pain that will always be with you. The outcome was wrong. He should not have died.
I struggle with the right words and how to speak to the entire community. I listen to Stephon’s family and the community say that this has happened too many times.
And they are right.
Undeniable fact: Even when our young African American men don’t die, their mothers and grandmothers and aunts and friends fear for their lives when they walk out the door.
Undeniable fact: Too many law-abiding, young African American men experience many of their interactions with law enforcement in hostile and negative ways.
Undeniable fact: Many African American parents do in fact teach their 16 year olds to hold the 10-2 steering wheel position when they are pulled over. Show your hands! I never would have thought to mention such a thing to my kids when they learned to drive.
I do not intend to make what I say next some political balancing of the scales or attempt at moral equivalence.
Our police officers put their own lives on the line. They and their families live each day with the fear of not knowing whether they will come home alive. They confront real crime. They often protect our neighborhoods from gangs, and robberies, and home break-ins, and help people who are having a hard time with addiction, mental illness and simply surviving. I have seen it.
At the same time, the vast majority of our young people in Sacramento are working hard and doing the right thing. Yet, some younger people, of all races, act irresponsibly and disrespect themselves and their communities. That’s true, too.
I can sit down with a justifiably traumatized African American mother and a young police officer an hour apart, telling their side of the historic divide -- and my head spins. One’s experience does not invalidate the other’s. Who is right? What is right? Can’t we find better ways to listen, to protect, to help each other heal?
I do not know what the District Attorney and The Attorney General will decide over the days, weeks or months ahead. If they decide not to bring criminal charges based on the existing state law, I know that there will be real anger about such a result.
And so what is the state of our city’s relationship between our men and women in uniform and the communities, especially the communities of color they are sworn to serve?
We are fortunate to have a great police chief, Daniel Hahn, who was born and raised here in Sacramento. We are fortunate to have a chief and department that are leaning in and are well ahead of other cities in becoming more transparent and changing policies and protocols. We mandate body cameras, we release video of many incidents immediately, and we mandate that foot pursuit be a last resort, not the preferred police practice. We have opened ourselves up to a full review by the state Attorney General. That is leadership.
Our department is also actively pursuing a Transformational Policing Model for our city. Over the past month, a hundred officers and community members came together to take a hard look at the roots of distrust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Participants spent two days sharing their experiences to better understand how we may overcome these issues. It is a start.
But our work in some ways has only just begun. The Attorney General and our own Office of Public Safety Accountability have told us clearly that while our use of force policy may meet strict legal requirements, there is much more we must do to bring clarity and safety to meet the spirit of the law and of our city’s values. We must place more emphasis on the sanctity of life. And we must ensure our police response is not disproportionate to the suspected crime.
The Attorney General said our police officers must see themselves as guardians of our neighborhoods, not as enforcers.
How will people react on that day knowing that our department is miles ahead of neighboring law enforcement agencies but still far from where we need to go?
I hope and pray and work for peace and non violence. We have all been working hard these last months and especially the last weeks to think, to organize, and to prepare for all possible outcomes.
Mostly what we’ve been doing, however, is listening. Listening to the pain, to the frustration, and to the wisdom of our community.
Your message is right and clear. To focus on peace without addressing justice would be a grave mistake. To try to contain the community’s anger would be a worse mistake.
Non-violence does not mean inaction. Peaceful protest is not a problem to handle but a right to embrace. We do not need to contain. We must instead lead. The best chance we have for peace is for people to know and see that we mean to change what must change.
The truth of modern-day police officers is that they both put their lives at risk and they have an awesome power to take lives. As a community and as a country, we have an obligation to insist that this awesome power be tempered with wisdom, justice and humility.
Where that power is exercised fairly, the officers who serve selflessly and humbly every day must be lifted up and celebrated. Where they exercise that power harshly or unfairly, we must hold them and ourselves accountable. Where state laws must change to reflect the difference, I strongly support changing those laws.
The long-held constitutional standard that allows officers to shoot when objectively reasonable must shift to a clearer set of specific rules and standards that require officers to do all they can to prevent a potentially lethal confrontation in the first place.
Our city must push to the front of the nation on transformative community policing, restorative justice, continued transparency, and accountability for all we do.
There is no turning back. The old days are over.
Yet if we stop at the intersection of law enforcement and our community, especially our communities of color, we are stopping too soon. The evidence of generations of trauma and systemic poverty is beyond dispute. The hope, opportunity, and opening for healing and generational change is right in front of us. Let us step into the breach together.
The police issues are rightfully magnified because officers have the legal authority to take a life. But our challenge today is not just what to do as a police department or a city to address the lessons of Stephon Clark, but more profoundly, what do we do as human beings to change ourselves and our ways.
When marchers took to downtown’s streets a year ago to protest the death of Stephon Clark, they were walking through the old West End, a neighborhood that in 1950 housed 70 percent of the city’s minority population. Right around that same time, the West End was labeled blighted and demolished to make room for I-5 and state office buildings.
And why was it blighted? Because the Federal Housing Administration refused to underwrite mortgages to non-white borrowers, saying they were a threat to property values.
There weren’t a whole lot of other choices when it came time to move. Racially restrictive covenants barred non-whites from neighborhoods like Curtis Park and East Sacramento. Instead they went to places like Oak Park, Meadowview and Del Paso Heights, which didn’t have such restrictions.
The late, great Nathaniel Colley, Sacramento’s first African-American lawyer, passed on his experience of what it took for an African American family to buy a home in segregated South Land Park In the 1950’s. His son Nat Jr. told a Bee reporter that white friends of the Colley family agreed to act as the actual ‘purchasers’ for the Colleys since no one would sell to them directly. ‘When my mom would check on construction’, Nat Jr. said, ‘she would let them think she was the maid. After we moved in, there was a cross-burning on the lawn, but it was a fairly quiet experience after that.’
The Colley’s experience was anything but remarkable or unique. It was common.
This is not just Black History, this is our history -- our shared history. We must acknowledge the past and learn from it so we can avoid repeating it.
Sacramento lives with these historic wrongs today. Inequities have persisted in many forms over the past half century.
In the mid- 2000s, subprime lenders aggressively targeted minority homeowners with high-interest loans, even if they could have qualified for lower rates. When the recession hit, thousands of our people lost their homes. The percentage of African American families who own their homes in Sacramento County was cut in half and now stands at about 25 percent -- the lowest rate in a century.
Today, in Sacramento, our communities of color are starved for real investments, new and expanded businesses, new jobs, and not just social services. It’s not just the African American community that demands our attention. Other communities of color face similar challenges, and in many more Sacramento neighborhoods than just Meadowview. Seventy percent of the children in the Sacramento City Unified School District are poor enough to qualify for free breakfast and lunch.
Our youth deserve not only more weekend and after school activities, but also clear pathways to high wage jobs. Our historic commercial corridors have vision, passion, but few resources to realize their potential. We have this incredible energy and some new resources around arts and culture and bringing back arts to our schools, but so little funding to make arts and culture a centerpiece of our neighborhood movement.
Start with the basics. This impressive facility that Sam and Bonnie Pannell fought so hard to build is closed on Tuesdays and Sundays and only open until noon on Saturdays.
Spending on youth programs was slashed during the recession and remains more than 25 percent below 2006 levels.
Heroic non-profit leaders have stepped in. Here in Meadowview, the Rose Family Creative Empowerment Center, led by Miss Jackie Rose, this year’s Friedman award winner, educates hundreds of children in after-school and summer programs in our public schools. It runs a drum line and a choir. It helps struggling families of all ethnicities find housing and overcome tremendous obstacles.
Many neighborhood kids – and even some of their parents – had never seen the ocean before going on a field trip to San Francisco with Miss Jackie.
As she likes to say, “Whatever someone else deserves at a high level, this community also deserves it.”
There are Miss Jackies throughout our city. But they struggle to cobble together the resources to keep doing what she calls the “heart work” of serving the community.
When I think of Meadowview, I think of Miss Jackie and of hard working families. But that is not the image of Meadowview that our society necessarily sees. A Google search produces results heavy on crime, including the headline for a TV story entitled “the lost boys of Meadowview.”
It must not be this way. As I said almost a year ago, when I launched our campaign for Measure U, great cities leave no one behind.
Today, I renew our call to action for Sacramento neighborhoods and all of our people.
Last November, 57 percent of Sacramento voters chose to add one half cent to their sales tax. Though the voters passed a general tax, I campaigned clearly and energetically as your Mayor to make the signature focus of these new resources transformational investments to change generational poverty. Some rolled their eyes. Many thought it would never pass.
Just like homelessness, I do not pretend that one measure, or one Mayor, or one city, can fix all of society’s ills.
But there is an equal truism on the other side. If we do not insist on equity, if we do not put real resources where our beliefs and our values lie, then we will relegate more generations of people to lesser lives than they deserve.
You know where I stand as your Mayor. I am grateful for the strong backing from our City Council and the voters.
Fortunately, the economy is still booming. We will have revenue growth for at least the foreseeable future. We must continue to bolster our core city services and treat our employees with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Let us be honest. But for the rallying cry to invest in growing a modern inclusive economy, the city undoubtedly would have sought to merely renew the old measure U at one half cent.
Our obligation to follow through on what we campaigned for is crystal clear to me.
For at least the first five years, I call for the lion’s share of the second half cent of Measure U to be invested directly in economic equity in our neighborhoods. Let us set aside $40 million a year for at least five years in our economic trust fund. That’s $200 million, and it will demonstrate clearly that this movement is not just a whim or a fancy. Our commitment is long overdue. Our commitment is real. Our commitment is right.
Through our soon-to-be-appointed Measure U advisory committee, and the expert advice of a broad and diverse investment committee, the City Council will have the ability and capacity to partner with the private sector, our other public sector partners and most important, with our community, to boldly invest in all our Sacramento neighborhoods.
No more young peoples’ lives sacrificed to the old excuse: we just don’t have the money. No more forgotten commercial corridors; no more lack of resources to address our affordable housing crisis; no more lack of capital to help start or grow neighborhood small businesses. No more wishing we could attract more Fortune 100 employers like Centene.
The old days of wouldn’t it be great are over.
This $200-million dollar plan will still leave $10 million a year from the new half cent, plus $50 million a year from the current half cent, plus all the revenue growth, plus the significant anticipated revenue from our emerging legal cannabis industry to both enhance core services and maintain healthy reserves. Providing public safety, police and fire, and other core services is still the most important function of any city. But we can only enhance those core functions for the people if we are committed to building a real and broad tax base. Building up all our neighborhoods is good for all of Sacramento.
And we will find real ways outside Measure U to maintain the momentum on broader city-wide priorities. We have $40 million of new money to transform Sacramento’s waterfront because of the efficient way we managed the Convention Center and Community Center Theater expansions.
Sacramento can in fact have it all.
There is the state of our city as I see it. We gather in the middle of winter. The days are short, spring feels like a long time away. We will have some difficult days ahead.
We have a choice. Sacramento’s next days and months must be a tipping point, not a breaking point.
Spring promises renewal and new hope. May Sacramento experience peace this spring and in all seasons. May we always show our love for one another. May we grow our fierce devotion for all our neighborhoods and all our people. And may we back it up with action that inspires our wonderful city and generations to come.