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    It’s Time to Get Rid of Jaywalking Tickets

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    I’ve done it. You probably have too. A flower shop or a store catches your eye on the other side of the street while walking. Maybe coffee or ice cream is calling your name. Giving in to the temptation, you look both ways, and when safe, you cross in the middle of the block. Most of us don’t realize we’re breaking the law, but that’s jaywalking—something you can get a ticket for.

    Jaywalking is enforced arbitrarily throughout California. Most often, tickets are issued disproportionately to people of color, and sometimes these encounters with law enforcement can be life-threatening.

    It’s time for change. That’s why I introduced AB 1238, the Freedom To Walk Act, to seek fairness and prevent unnecessary brushes with police. Whether it’s someone’s life or hundreds of dollars in fines, the price of our jaywalking laws is too high. We need to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and reevaluate whether our state’s jaywalking laws are actually protecting pedestrians.

    AB 1238 would eliminate jaywalking infractions in California, whether that’s entering the street when the traffic light is red or crossing outside a crosswalk. Doing so would end the undue burden placed on low-wage workers, as tickets are expensive, ranging from $250 to over $1,000. They often cannot take time off their jobs and go to court to fight this, which only adds more penalties to these outrageous fines.

    My bill would also end the use of jaywalking as a pretext to stop someone. There are examples in California when law enforcement has used it, including in the Bay Area, and the consequences were deadly. Chinedu Okobi was stopped by San Mateo County law enforcement in 2018 for crossing El Camino Real mid-block in Millbrae. When he declined to cooperate with authorities, they used a taser, leading Okobi to suffer cardiac arrest that eventually caused his death. More recently, Kurt Reinhold died in September while stopped for jaywalking in Orange County. Both accused jaywalkers were African American.

    The numbers behind police stops for jaywalking are just as telling. The California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) compiled data from 2018 to 2020 show Black Californians are much more likely to be stopped by police for jaywalking than white Californians, up to four-and-a-half times more.

    The history of jaywalking laws began in the 1930s. As the number of deadly car accidents skyrocketed the previous decade, the emerging auto industry wanted to shift the blame from drivers to pedestrians. Over the years, street designs primarily considered the needs of drivers without accounting for people who are not in cars. Adding to the problem is the lack of crossing infrastructure in under-resourced communities.

    We have seen that decriminalizing jaywalking works. The United Kingdom allows pedestrians to cross the street mid-block and has half as many pedestrian deaths as the United States. Other states have begun the process of reevaluating such laws, too. Virginia recently decriminalized jaywalking, and the New York Attorney General recommended last summer that New York State do the same.

    California has amended jaywalking laws in the past. Prior to 2018, police officers could and did ticket people for crossing once the traffic light countdown began. No more. The California Legislature changed that in 2018. Let’s go further and stop ticketing this infraction completely to ensure fairness across our state.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on May 20, 2021