San Francisco – Jaywalking is arbitrarily enforced throughout California with tickets disproportionately given to people of color and individuals of modest means. In a continued effort to seek fairness and prevent potentially escalating police stops for jaywalking, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) reintroduced a proposal to change the way pedestrians can be cited for crossing a street outside of an intersection. AB 2147, The Freedom To Walk Act, would decriminalize jaywalking when the roadway is safe to cross.
“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, especially when we are trying to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk more for health and environmental reasons,” said Ting at a San Francisco press conference.
This is Ting’s second attempt to decriminalizing jaywalking in California. The latest proposal makes technical changes to address the concerns stated in the Governor’s veto message of AB 1238 last year. Instead of repealing the state’s jaywalking laws, the new bill defines when an officer can stop a pedestrian for jaywalking - specified as only when a reasonably careful person would realize there’s an immediate danger of a collision.
AB 2147/The Freedom To Walk Act promotes the fair and equitable use of streets by:
- Legalizing crossings outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light when safe, thereby eliminating fines for safe crossings
- Preventing police from using jaywalking as a pretext to stop Black and Brown people
There are many examples of California cases in which a jaywalking stop has gone wrong. In September 2020, San Clemente Police killed Kurt Reinhold. In the Bay Area, Chinedu Okobi was killed more than three 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.
“Everyone jaywalks, but California police officers are five times more likely to stop a Black person for jaywalking than a white person. These laws are not only discriminatory, but also lead to harmful — and, in some cases, deadly — encounters with police,” said Rio Scharf, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF). “It’s time to finally decriminalize walking.”
It should also be noted that under-resourced communities often do not have the adequate infrastructure, such as pedestrian crossing buttons or crosswalks. For example, UC Berkeley doctoral candidate, Marcel Moran, studied San Francisco’s crosswalks and found there are fewer of them in lower-income neighborhoods when compared to wealthier areas.
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 flashing. AB 2147 will be scheduled for its first committee hearing this Spring.