Bill That Would Decriminalize Jaywalking Passes State Assembly

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Sacramento Police Officer punches Nandi Cain in Sacramento in 2018 during an arrest for jaywalking

By Vanguard Staff

Sacramento, CA – A bill intended to seek fairness and prevent escalating police stops for jaywalking passed the California State Assembly on Wednesday.

AB 1238, authored by San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting aims at decriminalizing jaywalking, which right now, he says is “arbitrarily enforced throughout California.”

“When it is cited, tickets are disproportionately given to people of color, and sometimes, these encounters with police turn life-threatening. In an effort to reform this unfair system,” he said back in March.

“Whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction,” said Ting at a San Francisco press conference when he introduced the legislation two months ago. “It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”

AB 1238/The Freedom To Walk Act promotes the fair and equitable use of roadways by “legalizing crossings, when safe, outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light.”

It would additionally stop “the undue financial burden on low-income violators, as fines can total hundreds of dollars, if not more, because of added fees tacked on by the court, county, city and other jurisdictions.”

Finally it would prevent police from using “jaywalking as a pretext to stop Black and Brown people, especially since under-resourced neighborhoods often lack adequate crossing infrastructure.”

“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,” said Jared Sanchez of the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), sponsor of AB 1238.

While there are many examples of California cases in which a jaywalking stop has gone wrong, the most recent case occurred in September when San Clemente Police killed Kurt Reinhold. In the Bay Area, Chinedu Okobi was killed more than two years ago in Millbrae by San Mateo County deputies. And in 2017, Nandi Cain was beaten by Sacramento Police. The victims in each of these cases were African American, and video captured each incident.

The numbers behind police stops for jaywalking are just as telling. From 2018-2020, data compiled by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) shows Black Californians are severely overrepresented when it comes to being stopped for jaywalking, up to four-and-a-half times more than their White counterparts.

“Jaywalking citations criminalize low-income communities of color and do not advance public safety or deter jaywalking,” said Rio Scharf, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF). “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.”

Jaywalking laws were enacted in the 1930s by the emerging auto industry, which saw the number of deadly car accidents skyrocket in the prior decade and wanted to shift the blame from drivers to pedestrians. Over the years, street designs primarily considered the needs of drivers, failing to account for people who aren’t in cars.

California has already begun making changes. Up until 2018, it was illegal for people to cross the street at a traffic light when the pedestrian countdown meter began. AB 1238 would go further, repealing the state’s remaining jaywalking laws. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, have shown it can be done safely. The U.K. allows pedestrians to cross the street mid-block, yet it has roughly half as many pedestrian deaths as the United States.

In March, Virginia became the first state to decriminalize jaywalking, and the New York Attorney General recommended last summer that its state do the same. California is expected to begin debate on AB 1238 next month during its initial committee hearing.


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20 thoughts on “Bill That Would Decriminalize Jaywalking Passes State Assembly”

  1. Chris Griffith

    Never in history have common pedestrians ever had the right-of-way over vaunted Drivers. Back in the horse and buggy days we’d strap a six-gun to the side of the carriage and gun-down any pedestrian who so much as looked like they might step off the curb in the wrong spot.

    In Roman times charioteers would weld swords to the edges of their carts and race down the streets of Rome, disemboweling people who got too close to the curbs.

    I say keep those pedestrians in line. Mow ’em down before they spread. The world is for drivers — only. Get a car! I think we need to eliminate crosswalks and traffic lights next. 🤔

     

  2. Alan Miller

    AB 1238/The Freedom To Walk Act promotes the fair and equitable use of roadways by “legalizing crossings, when safe, outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light.”

    Sounds a lot like the Idaho Stop law for biclycles.  Totally in favor.

    it would prevent police from using “jaywalking as a pretext to stop Black and Brown people,

    Whoa . . . you can write a law that specifically ‘prevents’ police from ‘using’ jaywalking as a ‘pretext to stop’ ‘Black and Brown people’, only citing particular races?  First, the law is therefore assuming the accusation is true.  Second the law implies the accusation is true, third, the law specifically names to vaguely described ‘racial’ groups by ‘color’ as the implied victims of unproven allegations, and fourth, the law claims to ‘prevent’ the allegations assumed as truths.  I’m not saying this doesn’t happen or isn’t a problem, but how can a law be written as it is or do what it claims? . . . if it indeed does . . . or it that editorial comment written as if it were the law itself?

    “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,” said Jared Sanchez of the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), sponsor of AB 1238.

    And the coronavirus disproportionately targets certain populations.  Cause and effect are not nearly so clear cut as the mere fact that disproportionality is indeed occurring.

    to stop Black and Brown people

     

    especially for Black people

    Above both black and brown people are cited as targets, below only black people . . . “things that make you go . . . . ‘hmmmm . . . . . ‘ “

    1. Bill Marshall

       “legalizing crossings, when safe, outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light.”

      Like others, agree with the ‘decriminalization’ part… my concern (and have not yet drilled into the text of the bill), is that it would give “license”, even if it is NOT safe, therefore putting bicyclist/drivers in the position of ‘being culpable’, even if the pedestrian “does an inattentive ‘stupid'”… but, the proposal is a good concept, if everyone remains responsible for their own actions…

      Less experienced PD folk don’t even understand what the current law provides for under the definition of “jay-walking”… but the interesting part is how many times, in the last 10 years, has a citation been issued, fine assessed, in CA?

      Is the bill a pretext for making a “social justice” point, rather than logic and safety, based on maybe as low as 100 citations in the last 10 years?  I’d feel more strongly if the number of ‘contacts’, citations, been in the 10,000+ in the last 10 years… how many were events where a [reasonable person standard] person was NOT acting in a prudent, safe manner? [gets to the “license” thingy]

      As a pedestrian, I believe it is incumbent on ME to judge the safety and reasonableness of my actions, given the observable circumstances/context… and to bear the consequences of any ‘stupids’ I do…

       

    1. Ron Oertel

      It was too aggressive for my taste – but when you disobey the police, remove your jacket (as if preparing for/inviting a confrontation with police), I’m not surprised that the invitation would be accepted.  Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

      Of course these days, some believe that you no longer have to obey commands from the police.  It’s “voluntary”, in the eyes of those folks.  And it’s apparently incumbent upon the police to simply “request” cooperation (in the most “de-escalating manner” possible), which can then apparently be declined – regardless.

      Of course, the people who believe that will then claim that it’s up to those being detained, whether or not to cooperate (based upon what they’re being stopped for, I presume).

      1. Ron Oertel

        One is on a mission from God, one is on a mission from the “other” guy.  🙂

        Yeah, I probably shouldn’t assume it’s a “guy”. (But we all know that he probably is. Both of them, actually.) Nor is there any “non-binary” about it.

        1. Keith Olsen

          Yeah, I probably shouldn’t assume it’s a “guy”. (But we all know that he probably is.

          LOL, yeah the Devil is not only a “guy”, but probably an old white guy.  (At least as far as this blog is concerned)  😉

        2. Ron Oertel

          Yeah, but so is the “other” (good) guy.  I’ve seen depictions of him which verify this.

          The entire “system” is racist. It’s rigged, and likely includes redlining. The bad guy himself might actually be red, but might just be a bad “burn”.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Or, Hobby Lobby?

    Great store, but ownership have strange politics… based partly on religion (Ron O’s referent?) but not necessarily, spirituality… I like the store, from the one time I visited, but not so much the political posture…

    And yes, one should infer that I question ANY sort of ‘lobby’, many of which have “religious” (whatever their ’cause’ is), but not necessarily spiritual, followers/zealots…

  4. Chris Griffith

    Here are some stats from the Sacramento Police Department from a few years back. From the locations on these statistics on where these citations were written
    I would venture to guess that most of them were written to homeless people and probably for good reason. Even if they didn’t pay for the ticket  Simply Having a cop write a citation and chatting with these individuals might save  one life it would all be worth it Statewide I wonder how many deaths we have in California from people getting hit while jaywalking .
    I wonder if we are going to see an increase in jaywalking deaths in the state of California incoming years

    https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Police/Transparency/Jaywalking-Citation-Statistics

    I also found a very interesting opinion piece about jaywalking in Los Angeles .

    https://www.latimes.com/opinion/livable-city/la-oe-schultz-pedestrians-lapd-20180806-story.html 

    1. Ron Oertel

      In general, I would think that allowing lawlessness to increase unabated (whether it’s jaywalking in dangerous situations, closing down freeways, etc.), the chance for purposeful provocation and confrontations between citizens increases substantially.

      If some are already reacting with hostility toward police, what are the chances that they’re also doing so with others?  (A rhetorical question.)

       

       

    1. Ron Oertel

      The findings are important as autonomous vehicles prepare to take the road in the U.S. and other places around the world. In the future, car manufacturers and policymakers could find themselves in a legal bind with autonomous cars. If a self-driving bus kills a pedestrian, for instance, should the manufacturer be held accountable?

      Who else would be?  The “passenger”?  Assuming it’s the computer’s fault/choice.

      In any case, I’m looking forward to the day when the only “road rage” that will occur will be between computers. And hopefully, human criminals won’t find a way to manipulate these things (e.g., to control them without the passenger’s consent). (Yeah, right.)

      And then, there will be the hangers-on, with their 40-year old “manually-operated” vehicles getting in the way, with 80-year-old eyesight and brains. (Perhaps relegated to the non-moving, “free” lanes.)

      1. Keith Olsen

         (Perhaps relegated to the non-moving, “free” lanes.)

        This last week I did a lot of traveling in the Bay Area and noticed the expansion of the pay for travel lanes.  I wonder how long before people will start crying foul about the privileged only having access to these lanes while the poor and underserved have to sit in the “free” lanes?

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