While many people were out shopping on Black Friday, about 25 Sonoma County residents staged some street theater at the Santa Rosa Mall to highlight alleged law enforcement brutality, specifically the alleged beatings of 20 inmates at the Sonoma County Adult Detention Center by sheriff deputies in May.
There was an inmate in orange prison garb and three deputies dressed in black with black ski masks, dressed as they were at the jail. Actors representing Sheriff Steve Freitas and District Attorney Jill Ravitch were on hand to deny all the accusations.
An announcer explained the action so shoppers would understand the event. Large signs were held up announcing the reenactment. After the attacks in Paris, the activists did not want to be confused with terrorists at the mall, particularly while wearing the masks. The safety of actors and shoppers was paramount.
The skit was repeated seven times in the mall and a few more times outside. Mall security was informed about the action and accompanied the performers, but did not interfere. Mall security took some flack last year for harassing the parents of Andy Lopez during a protest, and the mall owners subsequently have taken a hands-off approach.
Many shoppers stopped to watch the performances and seemed interested in knowing more. Many snapped up the fliers explaining what happened at the jail. Several people approached the activists to tell of their own experiences at the hands of Sonoma County deputies.
Sheriff Freitas has said that the inmates—locked in individual 6-by-10-foot cells with no access to each other and taken individually from their cells with their hands handcuffed behind their backs— were creating a "coordinated mass disturbance." His office did not explain how this was feasible.
District Attorney Ravitch does not feel that 20 inmates complaining about abuse warrants investigation. In response to a question at a public meeting, Ravitch said that inmates have every reason to lie. She did not mention that brutal deputies and the sheriff might have good reason to lie as well. She acknowledged that receiving complaints about the sheriff's office and county jail is an almost daily occurrence, and she regularly chooses not to investigate. The sheriff has assured her that everything is just fine.
Susan Lamont is a local peace and social justice activist, writer and artist who retired this year from the Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County.
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