Protestors hold signs in Elk Grove on June 2. They gathered in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25.

Elk Grove community members this week responded to the Minneapolis police brutality case that left an African American man dead. The wide circulation of a witness video led to protests and unrest across the country.

George Floyd died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer reportedly knelt on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest in which he was accused of trying to spend a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli.

A private autopsy that was commissioned by Floyd’s family determined his death was a homicide, and that he was killed by asphyxiation through compression to his neck and back. Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder.

In Elk Grove, a protest with about 20 sign-bearing demonstrators who protested the Floyd incident and police brutality against African Americans gathered for several days at the northeast corner of Laguna Boulevard and Bruceville Road.

Elk Grove resident Kevin Bethea, who works as a Kaiser Permanente nurse, told the Citizen that he started this protest as a solo effort, and he was gradually joined by others.

 “I stand for the people who are protesting peacefully, and I say to myself, if they can do it, then I can do it,” he said. “And that’s what it takes is people coming out of their comfort zones and coming out to the streets and talking to the people who are hurting to make this a better place. And that’s the first step is making this a better place.”

Bethea also commended the Elk Grove police.

“They stopped by, pulled up in a (police car),” he said. “(An officer) opened up the passenger’s car door and brought us a big case of water. He said, ‘Stay safe and thanks for the peaceful protest.’”

Crystal Jn-Louis, who was among the people who joined Bethea, spoke out against incidents of police brutality.

“Police brutality, in general, has been a part of our country forever,” she said. “Police were initially brought up, not to oppress black people, but to control them, because we weren’t equal in the beginning.

“This history has not gone away, and that was just demonstrated the other day with George.”

R’lyeh Schanning, who launched another solo protest at Elk Grove Boulevard and Bruceville Road, later joined the other protestors on Laguna Boulevard.

Schanning called for open conversations on the issue of race relations.

“Listen and hear one another and then we might be able to solve some of the problems in our nation,” he said.

Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, in a statement issued on June 1, addressed the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death.

“What we are seeing across the country is the reaction to trauma and loss caused by decades-long injustice and inequity in our communities of color, specifically our African American community,” he said. “Mr. Floyd’s death is heartbreaking, appalling and traumatic. My deepest condolences to the families for their loss.”  

Ly added that it is important for the community to “stand together and bring forth positive change.”

Sharie Wilson, co-owner of Elk Grove’s DreamGirls hair salon, which received bigoted threats from an anonymous person in 2017, reacted to Floyd’s death.

“As a mother of all black boys and being married to a black man, it’s scary, and George Floyd did absolutely everything he was supposed to do,” she said. “You know, they teach our black boys how to deal with the police officers, tell them to cooperate.

“My sons would have done exactly what Floyd did and (Floyd) still ended up dead. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t resist arrest, even though he did absolutely nothing wrong. We came to find out that the bill was a real bill. The money was real.”

Wilson added that she supports the protestors.

“The reaction of what’s happening in different cities and states around the world, I’m sorry, I’m with the protestors,” she said. “Something has to give. What this cop did, he took a father away from (his) daughter. A 6-year-old, little black girl is now fatherless. So, we’re mad, we’re furious.”

Elk Grove Police Chief Tim Albright referred to the incident that led to Floyd’s death as “a lack of empathy and appreciation for the sanctity of human life.”

“If you have malice in your heart, no training, no edict, no policy, no law is going to properly orient you,” he wrote in a May 31 statement.

Lance Lewis, pastor of Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church, is a member of Albright’s Community Advisory Board.

He told the Citizen that the board has already heard from Albright on this matter, and that the board will discuss the issue in their upcoming meeting.

“Our conversation will be consistent with past discussions that have been open and honest on various aspects of our (police department),” he said.

Lewis stressed that the board is only one part of the process to “address America’s long-standing plague of racism.”

“Putting systematic injustice to rest calls for proactive advocacy from every societal institution beginning with evangelical churches,” he said.

“As an African-American born and raised in Philadelphia, who’s advocated for genuine racial reconciliation within my evangelical denomination for the past 25 years, I was deeply saddened and troubled by Mr. George Floyd’s death. His death, along with that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, is the bitter fruit of a society that has never truly faced its historic and deep-seated racism.”

Lewis said that Floyd’s death increases the need for “systemic reform in police hiring, training, and ongoing support.”

Dr. Bhavin Parikh, chair of the city’s Diversity and Inclusion Commission, referred to Floyd’s death as “senseless acts of racism and injustice.”

“We do understand the pain, anguish and frustration of victims of institutionalized racism that has plagued our society for a number of years,” he said. “Together, we stand in solidarity with African Americans and people of color in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.”

Parikh noted that the commission promotes dignity for all its residents and rejects, discourages and disapproves of any hate-based activity, conduct or violence.

“Let’s engage in peaceful dialogue to bring meaningful systemic changes to end prejudice, injustice and hate,” he said.

Elk Grove Unified School District Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen shared her thoughts on Floyd through Facebook on June 2. On the following day, she joined the demonstrators at the corner of Laguna Boulevard and Bruceville Road.

She noted that the issue needs to be addressed through a lot more work than holding Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches and prayer breakfasts, sharing comforting quotes via social media, and for non-blacks to mention they have African American friends and colleagues.

Singh-Allen instead called for such actions as changing discriminatory policies in all levels of society and policing practices and the use of force.

“Black men and women have given their lives while serving this country to protect our freedoms,” she wrote. “We have failed to protect them. Who is looking out for them?

“As a school board trustee, a mother, an immigrant, a Sikh and human, I am ready to get to work. Are you? Black lives matter.”

No unrest, no curfews in Elk Grove

Unlike the unrest and looting that broke out in Sacramento last weekend, the streets of Elk Grove were calm.

Elk Grove police spokesperson Jason Jimenez told the Citizen that a business was burglarized on May 31, but there was no evidence that linked it to the unrest in Sacramento. There were no reported incidents of looting in the city at the time.

Elk Grove officials did not enforce a citywide curfew on June 1-2 when the city of Sacramento held an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in response to two nights of looting and property damages to more than 130 businesses in downtown and midtown Sacramento.

“At this point we are not considering instituting a curfew, but it remains an option if needed,” Jimenez said on June 1.

The Elk Grove police spent much of their time online during the evening of May 31 when rumors of planned criminal activities targeting the city were circulated on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and NextDoor. One Twitter user who claimed to be from the anarchist movement Antifa reportedly posted a tweet that called for attacks on Elk Grove and other suburban communities in the Sacramento region.

Several social media users contacted the police to see if the rumors were credible. Authorities announced on Facebook they were not.

“With some of the messages being circulated on social media causing worry and concern, we wanted you to know: we are here, we are monitoring and we are committed to our community’s safety,” the Elk Grove police announced on June 1.

Jimenez told the Citizen that community members should check the Elk Grove police’s social media pages for notifications and updates.