Hilary Swank can't save Sacramento's black residents

Race in the criminal justice system is a serious subject, especially in Sacramento, where blacks are overrepresented in traffic stops, searches, youth homicides and jailings. What better way to illustrate this knotty topic than with clips from the 2007 Hilary Swank-barfer Freedom Writers?

That’s what happened during a May 7 criminal justice seminar at this year’s Sacramento County Citizens Academy.

John StosselThe movie is yet another manipulative spin around the “compassionate Caucasian saves poor minorities” campfire. It’s white guilt-masturbation masquerading as social conscience. Yet it played a supporting role in an otherwise serious presentation by two otherwise serious-minded Sacramento police officials on racial profiling and law enforcement training. Also clipped into the video presentation was John Stossel and his condescending mustache.

The video bits subtracted nuance from a nuanced topic, and did our generous speakers—police Capt. Kathy Lester and internal affairs Sgt. Charles Husted—no real favors.

More enlightening were the pair’s statements that relied on actual data: Sacramento city schools are more likely to formally discipline black and Hispanic youths than other races, even though there’s little differentiation in youth delinquency tendencies across racial groups.

This matters, the speakers said, because once you’re in the system, you’re basically not getting out.

Which brings us to the next point. Putting all the blame for racial bias at the feet of law enforcement is society’s way of ignoring its own trespasses. Lester and Husted noted that citizen complaints to the police department are themselves racially skewed, with 80 percent of the robbery reports they take citing black male suspects between the ages of 18 and 25.

While this is all crucial info, the presenters did seem more interested in proving everyone else’s bias than explaining how law enforcement accounts for theirs.

When I challenged Lester’s statement that the city’s community racial-profiling commission is active and conducting outreach to Sacramento neighborhoods, she stood by her comments. But, contrary to what Lester indicated, the commission only met once in the last 20 months. And even at that meeting—in January—the commission didn’t discuss any formal business. It hasn’t done so in five freaking years.

Any community outreach that’s being done on the subject of racial profiling is being done informally on an individual basis, not by the commission, said commission chair Danette Brown.

“We haven’t really had an agenda for a long time,” Brown told me last week. “Pretty much the last time we did anything together was in 2008.”

It would take a simple amendment to the commission’s scope to change that, but city council members have refused to introduce the amendment the commission drafted two years ago.

One former commission member told me new Councilman Allen Warren was their big hope to change that. But so far, same old, same old.

The commission is stuck in limbo. Blacks continue to be “overrepresented” in law enforcement contacts (according to both a January report from the county inspector general and current police data). And anyyone with any actual power to address this has stopped asking why.

Instead, we get Hilary Swank saving black kids and John Stossel making crazy eyes at us.

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