Jacksonville Police, Under Fire for Racist Jaywalking Enforcement, Refuse to Reassess

The June, 2017, jaywalking arrest of Devonte Shipman by Jacksonville police led to a detailed investigation of the department's discriminatory pedestrian enforcement. Photo: Devonte Shipman/Facebook
The June, 2017, jaywalking arrest of Devonte Shipman by Jacksonville police led to a detailed investigation of the department's discriminatory pedestrian enforcement. Photo: Devonte Shipman/Facebook

Despite a bombshell investigation showing the discriminatory nature of pedestrian fines in Jacksonville, local police are refusing to reform their approach to jaywalking stops.

The “Walking While Black” series by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica found that local police disproportionately issue jaywalking tickets to black people. The city has a bewildering array of 28 different laws dictating how people can legally walk. Anyone walking any distance can easily run afoul of them. The local Fox affiliate recorded multiple instances of police officers themselves violating the rules.

The laws function as a convenient pretext to stop black people. They’re not doing anything to make people safer: Jacksonville remains one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. for walking.

Jacksonville residents are calling for change. The Times-Union’s Ben Conarck reports that Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams spoke to a crowd of 1,400 people at a recent meeting of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment (ICARE) demanding reforms. But Williams said police aren’t about to reassess their approach to jaywalking tickets.

Conarck writes:

Williams said it is his agency’s stance today to emphasis discretion and to take infrastructure into account. He said his office has conducted internal training around pedestrian tickets. He didn’t provide details on when this training took place, how it was conducted and what spurred the training. The Times-Union and ProPublica documented cases of people who said they were ticketed for stepping around flooded sidewalks, or crossing the street where they were legally allowed to cross.

In the face of questions from Baber and Pastor James Wiggins, the sheriff could not point to any evidence to support that tickets with fines improve safety. In fact, Times-Union and ProPublica reporting showed fatal pedestrian crashes have risen at nearly an identical rate as ticketing has climbed in the last five years.

Racial discrimination in jaywalking stops is widespread and hardly limited to Jacksonville. At least one city, Seattle, has discussed eliminating the laws as a result.

As evidence mounts that this enforcement does harm without helping anyone, how much longer will Jacksonville police resist change?

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One of Sacramento's poorest neighborhoods doesn't have enough crosswalks. It also has a high rate of jaywalking arrests. Image: KXTV

What Will It Take for Sacramento to Make Walking Safer in Poor Neighborhoods?

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Police and city planners in Sacramento have come under scrutiny in the weeks since police were caught on tape assaulting Nandi Cain, Jr., a black man, during a jaywalking stop. Cain, who was legally using an unmarked crosswalk, has since filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Now, reporters are looking into why there are so few marked crosswalks in one of Sacramento's poorest areas.