Jacksonville’s “Jaywalking” Enforcement Is Very, Very Racist

Jacksonville, Florida has some of the nation's most dangerous roads for pedestrians. The city's police have cynically exploited a genuine public safety threat to use "jaywalking" as a pretext to stop and search black residents. Image: Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville, Florida has some of the nation's most dangerous roads for pedestrians. The city's police have cynically exploited a genuine public safety threat to use "jaywalking" as a pretext to stop and search black residents. Image: Florida Times-Union

A bombshell new report from ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union examines Jacksonville’s profoundly broken and racially biased pedestrian enforcement. While the criminalization of walking while black may be especially terrible in Jacksonville, it is widespread throughout America.

Jacksonville is one of the nation’s most dangerous cities for walking. Rather than take this public safety issue seriously, the city has concocted an absurd array of laws so police can arbitrarily cite people on foot for harmless behavior. The burden of this enforcement does not fall equally — the investigation found a clear pattern of anti-black discrimination.

Using jaywalking enforcement as a pretext for racial profiling is so pervasive, you have to wonder if there are any major cities in America where it’s not a problem. And keep in mind that cities continue to enact new pretexts for arbitrary stops, like legislation outlawing the use of cell phones while crossing the street, that open new avenues for racially-biased enforcement.

Here are some of the more egregious findings from the ProPublica/Times-Union investigation.

Racial bias in enforcement

Between 2012 and 2017, 55 percent of pedestrian citations were issued to black people, who make up just 29 percent of the city’s population.

In other words, black people in Jacksonville are three times more likely to be ticketed for a pedestrian infraction than white people. And the disparity is worse in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where black residents are six times more likely to get stopped than white residents citywide.

Police use jaywalking as a pretext to search people without cause

Jacksonville police were unapologetic about using jaywalking-type infractions as a pretext for stopping and searching people.

“Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Jacksonville Undersheriff Patrick Ivey told reporters.

Rules about walking are impossible to follow

Jacksonville has a slate of laws on the books that are so voluminous, just about anyone walking any distance would run afoul of them. There are 28 different violations for people traveling on foot, including such trivialities as “not crossing at a right angle” and “crossing on a yellow light.”

Police ticket people who don’t even violate the rules

The rules are so complex, even police didn’t understand them very well. The most common citation — crossing outside a crosswalk — was applied incorrectly about half the time. Police gave tickets to people legally crossing in 353 cases between 2012 and 2017, the investigation found.

Police officers themselves break the rules

ProPublica and the Times-Union observed uniformed officers routinely breaking the same rules they were citing black people for. You can see footage of police jaywalking in the opening segment of this video:

Pedestrian fatalities increased

The effect of these tickets on pedestrian safety can’t be isolated very scientifically. But all signs point to this enforcement having no positive impact whatsoever. During the study period, pedestrian fatalities increased each year.

Fines mire people in a poverty trap

For many people stopped, the injustice went beyond being unfairly targeted for something trivial. The consequences were much more severe.

Between 2012 and 2017, Jacksonville police issued 2,200 citations for walking infractions. At the time the report was released, only half of those cases had been resolved either in court or through the payment of fines. In many of these unresolved cases, that means people are struggling to pay the fine and getting trapped in a cycle of indebtedness that can ruin their credit and lead to other penalties like license suspensions, which can be economically devastating in car-centric places like Jacksonville.

Be sure to check out the full report from ProPublica and the Times-Union, a thoughtful and inspired piece of reporting.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Ah yes, time to fight racism with racism–always a good and salubrious solution. Keep strengthening the cause for the alt-right neckbeards…

  • Stephen Simac

    When the cab over sausage truck hit me on my bicycle he was rolling through a stop sign, called a California stop in Florida at that time. I was (I thought) highly visible, riding in the center of the lane because no other vehicles were around. I believed we made eye contact, but did not realize that I had put on my cyclists cloak of invisibility, because there were no motor vehicles to alert him.

  • Stephen Simac

    You have to know Jacksonville a little better to argue that the police aren’t necessarily racist, because more blacks might be jaywalking. If you watch the video, you clearly see white police officers crossing roads illegally, but they’re not going to be ticketed. More to the point, illegal pedestrian behavior in Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra are unlikely to be targeted for enforcement,much less arrest.

  • Aubrey

    There’s another set of data that you need before declaring this racist.

  • Batman

    Just did some web searching to investigate ProPublica bias and found under 1% said they were right leaning to far right. Over 70% polled thought they were left leaning to far left. I looked at several polls, most said about the same thing.

  • Batman

    Just did some web searching to investigate ProPublica bias and found
    under 1% said they were right leaning to far right. Over 70% polled
    thought they were left leaning to far left. I looked at several polls,
    most said about the same thing. One should also note after all the percentages, etc, that manu jaywalking lower class blacks tend to intentionally linger to obstruct white folks and police cars.

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