What Sacramento’s jaywalking tickets tell us about justice — or lack of it

A week has passed since a white Sacramento police officer stopped a black 24-year-old on a Del Paso Heights sidewalk, accused him of jaywalking and, when he balked, punched him about 18 times.

Captured on video — by police dashcams and a passerby who posted it on Facebook — the Kafka-esque arrest of Nandi Cain was as baffling as it was brutal. Cain was walking home from work. He was unarmed. There appeared to be no probable cause even to stop him. The footage shows the dreadlocked young man crossing at a corner.

But compared with the last major abuse of Sacramento’s trust in police — the running to ground and shooting last summer of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man — the response has been a case study in transparent law enforcement.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, City Manager Howard Chan, Deputy police Chief Mike Bray and the area police captain, Pamela Seyffert, got out in front of the incident rather than stonewalling. Within 24 hours, a news release detailing the encounter had been issued, community leaders had been briefed, available video had been released, Cain’s charges had been dropped and the officer, a 2015 academy graduate, was on paid administrative leave pending criminal and internal investigations.

Though some in the rank and file sulked at the new accountability like children, this is how it’s supposed to be done.

In fact, if anything, this case has underscored how urgently an attitude adjustment is needed and how critical it is for the next chief to be a reformer. As The Sacramento Bee reported Friday, Cain’s jaywalking accusation exemplifies a pattern within the Del Paso Heights police district, which in the past year has been responsible for about 75 percent of jaywalking citations issued in the city. Half of those have gone to African-Americans, who are only about 15 percent of the area’s residents.

A slightly higher accident rate notwithstanding, traffic stats don’t paint Del Paso Heights as a pedestrian death trap. So are people being rousted for walking while black? If so, that’s an institutional problem on top of the injurious — and expensive — sensitivity to backtalk.

The rank and file may complain, but this city’s cowboy-cop culture has done them no favors. What will make this job easier, though? Trust.

Editor’s note: Editorials from other newspapers are offered to stimulate debate and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune.