The danger of walking while black in Sacramento

jaywalkingStopping people for minor infractions is a “proactive way” to reduce crime.

“It’s the little things, like jaywalking and minor traffic violations,” said Tim Davis, head of the union that represents Sacramento police officers. “If you look into those, you will find a lot more.”

Davis trotted out this theory by way of explaining a jaywalking confrontation that went bad. A Sacramento cop was caught on video last week punching out a 24-year-old black man, Nandi Cain, after confronting him for allegedly jaywalking in Del Paso Heights.

Video of the event, shot by a bystander, went viral, prompting the Police Department to release dashboard-camera video that showed the officer punching Cain about 18 times. The officer, whom the department has not identified, was suspended with pay pending both internal-affairs and criminal investigations.

The trouble with Davis’ theory is that local cops appear to apply it primarily in low-income North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights, where 70 percent of the residents are minorities. They don’t seem to test the theory in places like upscale Land Park, where I live.

Dozens of moviegoers jaywalk every weekend as they come out of the Tower Theater. Parents endanger little kids as they cross busy Land Park Drive between the baseball fields and the restrooms. They break the law with no fear of getting a $197 ticket. Whatever criminal inclinations they harbor go undetected.

In a fine example of watchdog journalism, the Sacramento Bee revealed that city police officers issued 233 electronic citations for jaywalking last year in Police District 2, which includes North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights. This total was nearly triple the number handed out in the entire rest of the city. Black people received 111 of those citations, nearly 50 percent, but account for about 15 percent of the area’s residents.

A mere 83 such tickets were issued in other city neighborhoods. No one was cited in Land Park.  A mere seven were handed out in the middle-class Greenhaven, Pocket and South Land Park neighborhoods.

The video and the Bee’s statistical breakdown are, to my mind, obvious indicators of officially sanctioned harassment of the minority community in North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights. The Police Department should be ashamed of its actions. Instead, we have Police Department spokeswoman Linda Matthew saying the ticketing of jaywalkers “has absolutely nothing to do with race.”

Matthew takes this absurdity a step further by suggesting the police are trying to protect pedestrians from harm by enforcing the laws against jaywalking. “There’s a lot more foot traffic in those areas,” she said. “Pedestrians will cross the boulevards wherever instead of walking down to the crosswalk where it’s safe and lawful.”

Police union head Davis justifies the harassment of black jaywalkers on the basis it protects north area residents from more serious crimes. Given that this theory isn’t much tested in non-minority neighborhoods, the assumption must be that black pedestrians are latent criminals.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he thinks the city needs to have an “honest conversation” about race.

A crackdown on discriminatory police practices would seem to be a more appropriate first step.


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2 Responses to The danger of walking while black in Sacramento

  1. Jay Rudin says:

    As far as I can tell by watching the first 30 seconds of the dash-cam video, the pedestrian wasn’t even jaywalking. Corner to adjacent corner is NOT jaywalking.

    • Paul Clegg says:

      Jay, You’re right the video doesn’t show the fellow jaywalking in the first 30 seconds, but as soon as the cop gets out of his car, he starts accusing him of having jaywalked. I suppose there might be earlier video of the alleged “crime,” or perhaps not.

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