Walking While Black

By Melba V. Pearson

Walking is a lot of things. It’s great exercise. It’s a cost-free mode of transportation. But for Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, evidence suggests that it’s leading to discriminatory encounters with police.

Black pedestrians in Jacksonville are ticketed a stunning three times as often for pedestrian violations, like jaywalking, as white pedestrians, according to ProPublica and The Florida Times-Union. In a recently published exposé, the outlets examined 2,200 tickets issued in Jacksonville between 2012 and 2016. They found that although representing only 29 percent of the city’s population, Black people received a whopping 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets. Disproportionate enforcement also occurred for lesser known offenses. For instance, 68 percent of people who received tickets for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” were Black.

In Jacksonville, crossing the street on a yellow light or walking on the street where there is no sidewalk can result in getting a ticket with a $65 price tag. If you are poor or working but struggling to make ends meet, this is an especially hard pill to swallow. Failure to pay may impact your credit score or possibly result in suspension of your driver’s license.

The disparate citation rates in Jacksonville raise serious concerns about racial profiling. The ProPublica/Times-Union story even includes pictures of police officers doing the exact same thing that Black pedestrians have been ticketed for.

The issue of disparate enforcement in the state of Florida is far from new.

The ACLU analyzed the rate of stops and tickets for seatbelt violations for 2014. Statewide, Black motorists were stopped and ticketed almost twice as much as white motorists based on data from 147 different law enforcement agencies. In some places, data showed Black motorists were as much as a staggering four times as likely to be ticketed.

In Tampa, Black children as young as 3 years old were targeted for stops while riding a bicycle and ticketed for things like “bike riding with no hands.” From 2003 to 2015, more than 10,000 bike tickets were issued — 79 percent of them to Black residents. Black people, however, compose only 26 percent of the Tampa population. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services issued a scathing report indicating that the tickets burdened Black cyclists in Tampa and did nothing to reduce crime or improve safety.

Does law enforcement have a compelling reason why they continue to overpolice communities of color? No, they do not.

The reason given by Jacksonville law enforcement for their pedestrian ticket enforcement practices is that it reduces pedestrian fatalities. But city officials in Jacksonville have not backed up that reasoning with evidence showing, for example, that the rate of pedestrian fatalities was actually lowered over time as a result of whatever practices are leading to such high rates of ticketing Black people for pedestrian offenses. Law enforcement has likewise not presented data showing that such interactions have reduced crime by, for example, leading to the apprehension of crime suspects or seizure of weapons and contraband.

Overpolicing of communities of color leads to one thing: the overpolicing of communities of color. That’s unacceptable and illegal. It’s time for Florida law enforcement agencies to make changes to the way citizens of color are treated. Only by embracing reform can police in Florida protect and serve everyone equally.

Melba V. Pearson is Deputy Director of ACLU of Florida



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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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33 thoughts on “Walking While Black”

  1. Tia Will

    Overpolicing of communities of color leads to one thing: the overpolicing of communities of color.”

    It also leads to a revenue stream for the police/city from those who are most likely to be both adversely economically affected by these tickets, and least able to take the time to appear to fight the tickets.

     

      1. Tia Will

        Howard

        So much for the “evidence-based” approach.”

        I am not sure of your intent with this comment. The article presents statistics as evidence. If you have evidence to the contrary, that should be presented rather than countered with a one liner of dubious intent. Then everyone could reach their own conclusion about what is demonstrated by all of the relevant evidence.

         

        1. Howard P

          My intent, is simple… perhaps you believe Melba V Pearson, of Florida ACLU is a definitive source, and that there is no bias, in ‘facts’ cited, conscious or unconscious.  No possibility that facts/studies were ‘cherry-picked’.

          You seem to embrace it as a sole source.  I do not.

          ‘Evidence-based’ does not look to a single source… or, perhaps we should accept what comes out of official White House press releases to be ‘incontrovertible fact’.

          I need at least three independent (unless I have first-hand knowledge/experience, then I only require one) sources before I come to a conclusion.  And it has to be sources I trust.  Here, we have one source, with biases, if any, unknown, so to me, we are two sources short of being able to conclude,

          The article presents statistics as evidence. 

          as Disraeli is quoted,

          “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

          True, so we have one of three evidence points, maybe… the compiler(s) of those are not known to me.  How could I trust them, without trusting every tweet, every press release that comes from the Oval Office as to facts and statistics?

        2. Cindy Pickett

          The Stanford Open Policing project includes both pedestrian and vehicle stops. They have collected a ton of data from many different states. There are tabs for findings, publications, and a tutorial so that you can analyze the data yourself if you don’t believe their analyses.

          Their findings: “Data from 20 states, comprising more than 60 million state patrol stops, are sufficiently detailed to facilitate rigorous statistical analysis. The result? The project has found significant racial disparities in policing. These disparities can occur for many reasons: differences in driving behavior, to name one. But, in some cases, we find evidence that bias also plays a role.”

          https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/

           

          So, now, are we up to two sources?

  2. Tia Will

    Howard

    You seem to embrace it as a sole source.  I do not.”

    You seem to have been sleeping, or otherwise so engaged in other activities to have missed the many, many articles with references on racial differences in policing documented over many years. I will be happy to compile a list for you later today or tomorrow if you indicate you need it. Busy the rest of today. But I am sure you could research it yourself. As for embracing this as a sole source, hardly. I have been awake and reading.

    1. Howard P

      Tia (and Cindy)

      It also leads to a revenue stream for the police/city from those who are most likely to be both adversely economically affected by these tickets, and least able to take the time to appear to fight the tickets.

      Disparate policing is one thing… the jump to revenue stream being a ‘motivator’ or a burden (much of the policing does not result in “tickets”) is quite another.

      So, there is one ‘maybe’, and the Stanford cite doesn’t easily lend itself to supporting the assertion quoted… so, we he have one maybe, and an “I can’t discern it”, in my sole opinion.

      1. David Greenwald

        Howard: For reasons that kind of escape me at the moment, you ignored my comment above regarding Ferguson, the Ferguson report is the ace in the hole.

        “Ferguson police and court officials were focused on generating revenue from municipal fines.“

        From page 5: “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing…”

        I’m really not sure what more you want.

         

         

        1. David Greenwald

          Not be overly obnoxious but it was pretty clear, this is paragraph 2: “Black pedestrians in Jacksonville are ticketed a stunning three times as often for pedestrian violations, like jaywalking, as white pedestrians, according to ProPublica and The Florida Times-Union.

  3. Howard P

    Breaking news… undocumented alien (deported 5 times), in a ‘sanctuary city’, being acquitted of 1st degree/second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, found guilty of felon in possession of a firearm.  The kill shot “was a ricochet”… more fodder for the VG.

    Am thinking the jury got this one right…

    Yes, this is straying a bit off-topic, as the topic is not “walking while undocumented”… moderator(s), feel free to delete this.  As it is straying off-topic… or is it?

  4. Tia Will

    Howard

    My vote as back up moderator would be to let it stand. Has a lot to do with racial bias in my opinion, not just about being black. I also am of the opinion that the jury got this right. Given the ricochet, I think the murder charge was probably a nearly impossible stretch.

    1. Howard P

      David has implied that my post should have been deleted/never posted… just so you know… am going to self report the entire sidebar, to make it easier for y’all,,,

      [moderator] Let’s just leave it for now and wait for David’s article tomorrow.

  5. Keith O

    I don’t think he shot her on purpose, but come on.  He was a convicted felon with a gun who first said he was shooting at a sea lion then changed his story to he accidently stepped on the gun and it went off to finally he was twirling the gun when it fired.
    Involuntary manslaughter should’ve been the charge and conviction.
     

    1. Howard P

      I repeat… he was convicted on the felon in possession of a firearm charge. Now, Keith, would you prefer he serve a longer term in State prison, at taxpayer expense, or be deported, at Fed’s expense?

      Get real?

      1. Howard P

        Non-responsive.

        Was he under custody by SF where, even if they were not a sanctuary city, where he would have been in custody by the Fed’s before the event?  Provide documentation… (pun unintended)…

  6. Claire Benoit

    This is probably the origin of loitering laws lingering on. (They were made specifically against black people so that blacks could be arrested and sent to work camps – modern plantations- up through the 70s)

    I think most racism at work here is subconscious or incidental. Sensitivity training is so needed among police and other officials that hold this sort of power. If they are more self aware and empahetic – they may regulate their impulses better and be less reactive to the defensive attitudes theyre likely to encounter when approaching African American civilians. AAs have good reason to be untrusting of police and all the systems that have been historically oppressive of blacks… sensitivity to this would give the period of calm necessary for all sides to heal.

    Im glad kids are getting tickets for riding bicycles with no hands. Its very dangerous and could get them killed.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Im glad kids are getting tickets for riding bicycles with no hands. Its very dangerous and could get them killed.”

      Just as long as you understand it’s only dangerous when black kids do it (obviously since they are the only ones getting ticketed).

      1. Claire Benoit

        Well this doesn’t seem like “racism” to me – unless the racist hasn’t thought his/her agenda out very well.

        Kids riding their bicycles hand free is extremely dangerous. Potentially fatal if done alongside traffic. Where the heck are their parents if they are doing both the above at 3??!! :-O

        So if black and white kids are carrying on this way – dangerously – in equal proportions but only black kids are getting tickets; then it seems the racist cops want to keep the black kids safe more than they do the white kids. Why dont the lives of white kids matter to them as much? 😛

        My guess is that maybe this particular area has more poverty stricken households where the kids aren’t being minded either because the parents are too busy working to stay afloat OR because their poverty is related to some crippling addiction. In this case the black kids would be ticketed for this more because they are more often being neglected and endangered more by riding bicycles recklessly. In this case the cops would really only be doing their jobs and probably know that the only way to get mom/dad to answer for their negligence is to slap a ticket on the kids. At least hopefully the families will get what they need in these cases rather than meet with racist heavy handed legal systems. Kids on bicycles is probably just a bad example for the point the author was trying to make.

        I am not at all saying that this particular example negates the point of the article. I know racism and sexism are alive and awfully well in our legal system. Unfortunately I dont believe most the perpetrators are conscious of it. Racism/sexism/bias most often seems to me to be an accidental addiction.

  7. Claire Benoit

    That makes sense. It is racist to police areas with a more condensed racial makeup… Kind of torn on this one. Their motives are probably all wrong – and most results of this probably lead to an imbalance of prosecutions and agitations… But the silver lining is that maybe a few kids are kept safer than theyd otherwise be.

    I only say this because, unfortunately, America’s history has led to the majority of predominantly black neighborhoods not being very safe. I do think it’s not something to be proud of that America is more focused on policing them than healing them. Especially when their brokenness is not 100% their own doing.

    Come to think of it – there really are so few niches in the country where Black Americans really are “safe”. In neighborhoods populated with other blacks – you’ve often got a ton of poverty induced crime, alongside drug induced poverty. In too many mostly white neighborhoods – they get are oft targeted by cops for looking suspicious or like someone’s suspect. Sheesh…

    I dont feel this has been my life experience but I do feel I have caught a bit of this from Yolo’s current DA. AndI dont doubt it is more relevent to black men.

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