The Sacramento Police Department, which was treated to a couple of days of media approval for its seemingly transparent response to the beating of a black man accused of jaywalking, couldn’t stick to sensible public relations. Instead, department officials are attempting to defend the indefensible by saying they were conducting a safety program to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.
Last week, the department got hit twice by bad publicity. First, a video of the jaywalking suspect’s beating, taken by a bystander, went viral. Second, the Sacramento Bee revealed statistics that showed police had issued a staggeringly high percentage of jaywalking tickets to blacks in 2016.
About 75 percent of the jaywalking tickets issued in the city last year were issued in the low-income, largely minority neighborhoods of North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights, which contain only 13 percent of the city’s population. Blacks received almost half of those tickets.
Police officials late Monday, according to an online Bee story yesterday, said the department had been utilizing a $622,627 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2016 for a yearlong program of traffic-related enforcement and public awareness efforts to prevent pedestrian accidents after such fatalities jumped citywide from eight to 18 over a one-year period.
The belated effort to hide behind this grant program raises far more questions than it answers. As far as I can tell, the state didn’t bestow the funding on the city until October 2016. The police department announced the grant in an Oct. 21 news release. The funds were to be used to combat a wide variety of problems tied to traffic-related deaths and injuries. Jaywalking was not even listed.
“Particularly alarming is the six-year rise in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, along with the growing dangers of distracting technologies, and the emergence of drug-impaired driving as a major problem,” the news release says. “This grant funding will provide opportunities to combat these and other devastating problems such as drunk driving, speeding and crashes at intersections.”
The statement lists 13 activities that will be targeted, especially those related to drunken driving. The only issue that comes close to an anti-jaywalking measure is “bicycle and pedestrian safety enforcement.”
Even if one buys the dubious likelihood the grant motivated local police to crack down on jaywalking, here are more questions:
Why did Del Paso Heights and North Sacramento feel the brunt of this campaign? No explanation.
Were black-pedestrian deaths far higher in these areas? No explanation.
How much of the $622,627 was spent in these neighborhoods? For what? No explanation.
What’s not really needed is an explanation for why blacks have been singled out by the police for harassment and financial pain through the enforcement of laws against jaywalking.
We all know what the reason is.