Harassment of black pedestrians called public-safety measure

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.



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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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Oakland’s pot plan gives social justice a bad name

pot handcuffsDiscrimination masquerading as social justice is hard to hide. It emits the stink of hypocrisy and duplicity.

I wish the politicians in Oakland who recently pushed through a “race and equity” plan had simply stated they intended to reserve 50 percent of marijuana-related business licenses for minorities. Period. End of discussion.

Unfortunately for them, a power grab of this magnitude in a newly legalized industry wouldn’t fly. A long, sordid history of employment discrimination must be established before claims for affirmative action have any chance of succeeding legally.

With no hope on that score, Oakland power-brokers concocted the novel theory that because minorities, especially blacks, were victimized by disproportionate criminal prosecutions during the nation’s war on drugs, these “victims” are now entitled to special privilege in the recreational and medicinal marijuana business.

On that basis, the politicians decided to reserve 50 percent of marijuana-related business licenses for residents who meet at least one of these conditions: jailed for a marijuana offense in the past 20 years, lived for 10 years or more in one of 21 city police beats with disproportionate marijuana arrests or have an annual income at or less than 80 percent of the Oakland average.

A similar plan has been advanced in Sacramento by leaders of the African-American community.  Mayor Darrell Steinberg, according to a Sunday Sacramento Bee story, said the local advocates raised “very compelling concerns” about how marijuana-enforcement practices have hurt minority communities. He also said the City Council would look to ensure that the same populations don’t face discrimination when it comes to getting licenses to operate in the legal medical and recreational marijuana industry.

Even if one buys the idea that any minority imprisoned for marijuana use is a victim of law-enforcement discrimination, why not demand compensation from the police agencies involved?  Why add to the injustice by discriminating against law-abiding minorities or even, my goodness, whites?

Pragmatically, the “race and equity” plan hardly ensures success for businesses that could generate sizable tax revenue for Oakland. Does someone think jail or prison provides the education and training needed to run a profitable business?  Realistically, a drug kingpin who was savvy enough to avoid arrest would be a better bet.

Going further down this road of victimization and job entitlement, should the city of Sacramento consider subsidizing brothels for the benefit of minority women who have been arrested for prostitution at a disproportionate rate?

In 2015, black women in California were about 20 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution than white women, according to data from the website Openjustice. Presumably, Sacramento contributed a significant share to this inequitable enforcement.

Victims of  pot and prostitution enforcement may be entitled to special help, but their plight shouldn’t be used by politicians to advance their own self-interest while creating odious racial divisions in our society.

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Race-based quotas for pot growers? Wow!

pot handcuffsThe craziness of the Trump election must have blinded me to other strange political developments. For example, I was surprised to learn, courtesy of the Sacramento Bee, that Sacramento officials have been pursuing for months a plan to make the city a regional hub for California’s marijuana industry.

Although I have been a proponent of legalized marijuana for 50 years, believing that people can bear only so much reality, I don’t relish the idea of Sacramento becoming the pot capital of the Central Valley. I prefer the image of Sacramento as the city of trees or even the farm-to-fork capital. Shouldn’t there be a referendum on the issue? Shouldn’t there be a 10-year plan on the values we residents want to foster in our city?

As surprised as I was by the pot plan, I was more amazed to learn that a call for race-based quotas in the emerging pot industry is gaining some traction. According to a Sunday Bee story, leaders in the African American community last week asked  the City Council to  make sure minority populations get a guaranteed share of marijuana business opportunities and taxes. They argued that minorities, especially blacks, were victimized by disproportionate criminal prosecutions during the nation’s war on drugs. Presumably, compensation is in order.

Betty Williams, past president of the Sacramento NAACP, asked the council to consider setting aside up to 40 percent of marijuana permits in the city for minority-owned businesses. The leaders also urged the city to consider offering interest-free loans to cover marijuana business permit fees.

Their call was inspired by the city of Oakland, which  recently adopted a “race and equity” plan to reserve 50 percent of marijuana-related business licenses for people who were either jailed for marijuana convictions in the city or had lived for 10 years or more in one of 21 city police beats with disproportionate marijuana arrests.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the advocates raised “very compelling concerns” about how marijuana-enforcement practices have hurt minority communities. He also said the City Council would look to ensure that the same populations don’t face discrimination when it comes to getting licenses to operate in the legal medical and recreational marijuana industry.

Here are some questions I have:

  • Do we as a society owe compensation to all individuals imprisoned for marijuana offenses? Should a poor white from Rio Linda be treated differently from a poor black from Meadowview?
  • Were minority communities hurt only because of the high number of incarcerations for marijuana? Is it possible widespread marijuana use is a poor building block for a strong community?
  • What message does such a policy send to impoverished individuals who chose to obey the law and work in low-paying jobs? Why not assist them?
  • Are middle-class minority individuals with no criminal record to be given special consideration?
  • Finally, are those who were caught selling marijuana the best candidates for entrepreneurial enterprises? Shouldn’t the city seek out the kingpins who were savvy enough to elude drug crackdowns and subsidize their proven talents?


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Most college sports programs feed off students, subsidies

public be damnedWhat does it say about our value system when coaches at public universities make far more money than full professors?

What is the lesson being taught when financially strapped students and their families are forced to subsidize the exorbitant pay of coaches whose services benefit only a few athletes?

A weary observer might say: Welcome to the American economic system, where those with power call the tune and take whatever they can get.

On Monday, I referred to a Cleveland newspaper series that revealed 51 coaches at public universities in Ohio received compensation ranging from $200,000 to $6.6 million. The golf coach at Kent State was paid $562,916 in fiscal 2015-2016. Compensation for full professors there ranges from about $125,000 to $140,000.

With the exception of Ohio State and its lucrative football team, intercollegiate athletic programs at most Ohio public universities don’t pay their own way.  The Plain Dealer-cleveland.com analyzed financial data  filed with the NCAA by 10 public universities that subsidize Division I sports — Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Kent State, Miami, Ohio University, Toledo, Wright State and Youngstown State.

The total cost of athletics at these institutions was $282.1 million. The sports programs, however,  generated only $113.6 million in revenue. The deficit required a $168.5 million subsidy from student fees, tax dollars and other public money.

The cost of athletic programs amounted to an average of $872 a year for full-time students at these 10 schools, the newspaper reported. Many schools generated this money directly from fees charged to all students. Others made the investments from other non-athletic accounts.

The millions of dollars in subsidies benefited relatively few students. A total of 3,976 students participated in athletics at these 10 universities during the 2015-16 school year. These same schools had close to 150,000 undergraduate students.

The situation in Ohio is typical of university athletics nationwide. A USA Today report several years ago found that just 23 of 228 athletic departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses.

In January, the University of California Board of Regents was forced to raise tuition and student fees despite widespread protests. The 10-campus system, hit by major state funding cutbacks, is struggling with higher student-faculty ratios, fewer courses, fewer teaching assistants and reduced student services.

Meanwhile, the 30-team athletic department at UC Berkeley ran a $22 million deficit last year and expects to end this fiscal year deep in the red, according to the Bloomberg news service.  A major problem is the program’s long-term debt. After completing the most expensive college football stadium overhaul ever, the Golden Bears now owe more money than any other college sports program, Bloomberg reported.

Annual payments on its whopping $445 million debt will be $18 million until 2032, when they jump to $26 million, Bloomberg said. They’ll peak at $37 million a year in 2039. The school plans to pay off the full sum by 2053, though the loan extends to 2112.

“Not only does athletics have a problem on account of the debt service, but it’s also taking up a huge chunk of our available borrowing,” said physics professor Bob Jacobsen, a faculty representative for athletics. In addition, he noted, professors are losing research opportunities due to funding concerns.



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