My View: Latest Police Incident Was Bad – but Was It Racial Profiling?

When video showed police officers attempting to run over Joseph Mann before fatally shooting the man last summer, the Sacramento police were silent.  When video showed an officer calling Dazion Flenaugh “a freak” and suggesting a citizen beat him with a bat, the Sacramento police said nothing.

But this week, when video showed a man reportedly jaywalking, taken down and repeatedly punched, the Sacramento police issued a statement: “The actions of the involved Sacramento Police Officer are disturbing and [do] not appear to be reasonable based upon the circumstances.”

Since 2014, the Vanguard has covered numerous officer-involved shootings and other actions and that is the first such statement we have seen.

What is clear is that there are several aspects of this current incident.  First of all, by California law it does not appear that the man had committed any crime.  Second, it is clear that the man escalated the situation by being non-cooperative.  However, at the end of the day, the police officer clearly acted unreasonably, based on the crime and threat that the man represented.

One of the key factors in the use of force as laid out in the PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) Report, “Guiding Principles Use of Force,” is that of proportionality.  “Proportionality considers whether a particular police use of force is proportional to the threat faced by the officers and is appropriate given the totality of the circumstances. Proportionality requires officers to consider if they are using only the level of force necessary to mitigate the threat, and whether there is another, less injurious option available that will safely and effectively achieve the same objective.

“Proportionality also requires officers to consider how their actions will be viewed by their own agencies and by the general public, given the circumstances.”

In this case, the man was only accused of a violation and there was no objective reason to believe that he represented a threat to the public.  The officer’s use of force, therefore, even with the preliminary evaluation of the department, seems objectively “unreasonable.”

But does that make it racial profiling?

The Bee is reporting a phenomena that appears to resemble something from Ferguson.  They report, “Sacramento police issued 233 tickets for jaywalking last year in the police district that includes North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights – 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.”

While not necessarily proof of racial profiling, the rate of 12 citations to every 1000 black residents is more than five times that for non-blacks.

The Bee reports, “The citation numbers, released in response to a request by The Bee, drew outrage from public officials and community members concerned that residents of the largely black and Latino area are unfairly targeted by law enforcement.”

Even if this is not profiling – it certainly feeds into the distrust the African-American community has for police actions.

Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Times published a survey of Florida shootings between 2009 and 2014 that suggests a common phenomenon here.  The first thing they find is not terribly surprising, whites outnumber blacks in Florida by about 3-to-1.  However, the report finds that police shot more black than white people.

As police critic Radley Balko points out in his column, “Police groups and their supporters will of course say that this is because blacks commit more crimes, are more likely to confront police, and that police are more likely to find themselves in black neighborhoods.”

But this report goes deeper, and the findings are hard to explain away. The report focuses simply on those shootings in which the victim did not threaten police with a weapon and did not commit or was not accused of committing a violent crime.

As Mr. Balko points out, “If you subscribe to the ‘police shoot more black people because black people are more likely to be violent criminals’ line of thought, you’d expect to see the racial disparity disappear in these numbers, or at least to narrow. Instead, it grew.”

In these incidents, blacks outnumbered whites by a 2 to 1 margin at 97 to 50 and police also shot 55 unarmed blacks compared to 25 whites. Police shot 15 black people who had simply been pulled over for traffic violations while shooting six whites.

They shot 19 black people after mistaking a non-weapon for a weapon compared with eight whites. They were also three times more likely to shoot a black person running away (16-5), suspected of a minor crime (17-6) and four times more likely to shoot a black person in the back (8-2).

Of course you might also argue that they are shooting too many people period, and you would have a point.

Mr. Balko points out, “I posted about a study by the ACLU of Florida finding that black motorists in Florida are twice as likely as white motorists to be pulled over for seat-belt violations, despite being only slightly less likely to buckle up.”

He concludes, “In short, if you’re black in Florida, you’re more likely than white people to be pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Once you’ve been pulled over, cops are more likely to see you as a threat, more likely to mistake an innocent movement for a furtive gesture, and more likely to mistake an innocuous object in your possession for a weapon. And it’s not all that different if you don’t happen to be in a car.”

The jaywalking stats are telling, because it is a low-level crime that is generally not enforced (especially in a residential area where the pedestrian appears to be legally crossing) – these are completely subjective enforcements and the pattern of who gets pulled over is rather telling.

You may not conclude that this is racial profiling, but the disproportionate nature of the data figures to undermine police efforts to re-engender trust in the minority communities.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “My View: Latest Police Incident Was Bad – but Was It Racial Profiling?”

  1. John Hobbs

    “You may not conclude that this is racial profiling, but the disproportionate nature figures to undermine police efforts to re-engender trust in the minority communities.”

    Abysmal sentence construction.

    Of course if this incident is not an example of racial profiling, it is certainly an example of the disparity of treatment. I walk to the Belair market on Florin Rd. often. If I go to my bank first, I must cross Florin, but the nearest crosswalks are more than 1/8 mile away, quite a walk for a guy with bad lumbar discs and no left Achilles’ tendon. I “jaywalk” several times a year. I have never been given a second look by the police.

    1. Howard P

      Reminds me of a point about “jay-walking”… some peds think when they step off a curb, they are ‘golden’… I think about the relative mass of potential conflicting vehicles, and myself… I only cross mid-block when I have about a 97% confidence level that I can either cross or get to a refuge (median island) without becoming a hood ornament or needing medical care and/or obit.

      It appears that many citations may be issued for “trifling fouls” (soccer term, but in basketball, it’s called, “no harm… no foul”).  I saw no “foul” in the video, until ‘contact’ was made… then saw a whole bunch.

  2. Dave Hart

    This is one video and one officer, but the statistics show it is more widespread than just a “bad” officer here or there.  Does it come from the top?  I doubt there is an explicit order to ‘go after black men who jay-walk’.  But it does show that top management is not looking at their own data in a self-critical way.  Then, there is the talk in police department locker rooms and after-hours socializing among officers where the working policy of officers is developed every day out of the earshot of management.  That is why there is a constant need for training and review of what is going on at the street level by police department management and city government.  That is exactly why Black Lives Matter was formed and why their demands should be taken seriously by all of us.  Publicly elected and appointed leaders should be judged by how they react to these kinds of incidents.

    1. Howard P

      Does it come from the top?

      Gee, did that come from a CNN ‘headline news’ piece?   Just saw that phrase used there…

      Usually, direction, right or wrong, comes from mid-management, lower level supervisors… or, there are the ‘rogue’ individuals, who are acting on no other ‘orders’ except their own… they seldom inform upper management unless ‘the stuff has hit the fan’… it is what it is… true in pretty much all professions…

      The apparent fact that other officers (reporting it), mid-management, upper management are looking at this as a foul speaks well of the department.  Just a troll’s opinion….

      1. Dave Hart

        I don’t have cable, so I don’t watch CNN if that helps you to interpret what I wrote.  But as a former manager “at the top” of an organization I recognize that is where the buck stops and it is where organizational change has to begin.  Upper management that “doesn’t know what’s going on” at all levels in their organization is incompetent management. Latest case in point: United Airlines.

        1. Howard P

          As to “patterns”, I agree… as to “incidents” not so much… using your example, the UA passenger removal doesn’t appear to be a pattern…

  3. John Hobbs

    Now the cops are claiming that the intersection has a history of jay walking citations, to justify the beating. Thin blue line my aunt Hattie’s tuchus.

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