By Lovepreet Dhinsa
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Charging that “jaywalking” is increasingly targeting people of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods, San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting has introduced Assembly Bill 1238, “The Freedom to Walk Act,” to decriminalize jaywalking.
This bill was co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF) and the California Bike Coalition.
This bill was drafted in response to the disproportionate amount of tickets and police encounters that are given to low-income people of color for a minor offense.
As seen last year in September, 47-year-old unhoused Kurt Reinhold was killed by the San Clemente Police for jaywalking. Similarly, Chinedu Okobi and Nandi Cain were killed in 2017 in the Bay Area.
A key characteristic these cases have in common is that they were all Black men. Jaywalking allows law enforcement to make use of another opportunity to racially profile and discriminate against Black individuals and communities, charge bill supporters.
According to a compilation of data by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), in 2018-2020, Black people in California were stopped for jaywalking four-and-a-half times more than their White counterparts.
In another report conducted by LCCRSF, one of the most common citations in Bakersfield was for jaywalking in the downtown area in 2020. The report showed that while only six percent of adults are Black in Bakersfield, approximately 28 percent of the citations given last year were to Black adults.
According to Ting, “whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction. It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”
A co-sponsor of the bill, Rio Scharf, an Equal Justice Works Fellow from LCCRSF, believes that “jaywalking citations criminalize low-income communities of color and do not advance public safety or deter jaywalking. We can have safe streets without criminal punishment for walking—and we have seen this to be true in wealthy, white neighborhoods where jaywalking occurs but citations are not enforced.”
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Jared Sanchez from the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), stated that “jaywalking laws do more than turn an ordinary and logical behavior into a crime; they also create opportunities for police to racially profile.
“A stop for harmless jaywalking can turn into a potentially life-threatening police encounter, especially for Black people, who are disproportionately targeted and suffer the most severe consequences of inequitable law enforcement,” he added.
AB 1238 would legalize walking outside of a crosswalk when deemed safe, cease unnecessary financial burdens on low-income people of color, and prevent law enforcement from using another opportunity to racially profile Black and Brown people, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Examples of safe crossing laws include in the United Kingdom, and parts of the U.S. such as Virginia and New York. Jaywalking laws were developed by the 1930s.
Lovepreet Dhinsa is a junior undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. She has a passion for criminal defense law, and strives to go to law school to fight for indigent clients. As such, she is also involved in her university’s mock trial program and student government.
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