“Ladies and gentlemen, when you have to call the police to stop the police, then you have a rather poor society, indeed.”
It’s been over three decades since Sagon Penn’s name made national headlines. Though his deadly encounter with San Diego police at one time received mass media coverage, it seems it has been largely forgotten. But thanks to evolution of technology, it will live on for generations to come.
For those who are unfamiliar with Sagon Penn’s story, here’s a brief run down.
One night in the Spring of 1985, Penn and a group of friends were riding around their hometown of San Diego, California. After allegedly making an illegal U-turn, two officers stopped their vehicle and began questioning Penn. Before any type of interaction with the young men took place, one of the officers, Donovan Jacobs, claims one of the men in the bed of the truck “fit the description” of local Crip gang members.
According to witnesses at the scene, Penn became frustrated with police questioning him, as he had nothing to hide and did nothing to warrant such suspicion. Tension between Penn and the two officers reached its boiling point and a struggle ensued. Officers assaulted Penn while spouting racial slurs at him, according to reports from witnesses. It got to the point where a female witness felt compelled to call the police on the officers who were brutalizing Penn.
At some point during the struggle, Penn, in fear of his life, grabbed one of the officer’s guns and opened fire on them, killing one, Thomas Riggs, and injuring the other as well as the ride-along passenger.
After the not guilty verdict was read, Thomas Riggs’ wife, Colleen, spoke to reporters and had this to say:
“I feel that justice was not served. Because Sagon Penn is a Black man, he is free today. If he were White, I think he would’ve been found guilty of all the crimes committed.”
An interesting sentiment, to say the least.
Though Sagon ultimately was found not guilty, his conscience was all but clear. In 2002, he took his own life.
Despite having occurred more than 30 years ago, Sagon Penn’s story is still relevant today. It speaks to the very core of the issues raised by Black Americans about their interactions with law enforcement.
And it begs the question, what if some of the unarmed victims killed by police had lived to see trial like Sagon Penn? Would the outcome have been any different for the numerous White officers who were found not guilty? Let us know in the comments below.