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Assemblyman Phil Ting is seeking to decriminalize jaywalking in California with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1238, The Freedom to Walk Act.

Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced the bill Thursday at a press conference near the City College of San Francisco and said jaywalking is arbitrarily enforced and that enforcement disproportionately affects people of color. In a statement, Ting said:

“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.”

Under the proposed bill, it would make it legal for a person to cross a street outside of a sidewalk or against a traffic light, when safe. It would eliminate fines for jaywalking, which could start at $250.

Jared Sanchez, a senior policy advocate for the California Bicycle Coalition and the main sponsor of the proposed bill, said language is still being crafted to establish what circumstances constitute a “safe” street crossing. Sanchez did cite current state law that says no pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or a place of safety “into a path of vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

Sanchez said they plan on using somewhat similar language, but he looks to “tighten up” the definitions.

Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk San Francisco, said an emailed statement to SFBay that law enforcement ticketing pedestrians rather than drivers behaving dangerously on streets did not make any sense:

What little resources we have for enforcing our traffic laws must be laser-focused on our most dangerous driving behavior – speeding.

Advocates for AB 1238 pointed to examples throughout the state where violent incidents have occurred after law enforcement officers stopped people for jaywalking. One such incident happened last September when Orange County sheriff’s deputies stopped Kurt Andras Reinhold for allegedly jaywalking in the city of San Clemente.

A video released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department last month depicted the encounter where Reinhold was ultimately shot and killed by a deputy.

In Millbrae, Chinedu Okobi died of cardiac arrest in October 2018 after San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies tased and beat Okbi with batons. In another incident in April 2017, Nandi Cain Jr. was beaten by a Sacramento police officer, who accused Cain of jaywalking. The city agreed to pay Cain a $550,000 settlement for what defense attorney John Burris called “one of the most outrageous unprovoked assaults since Rodney King.” 

Rio Scharf, a fellow with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, said in a statement:

“Jaywalking citations criminalize low-income communities of color and do not advance public safety or deter jaywalking.”

Sanchez said in a statement that the state’s jaywalking laws create opportunities for law enforcement to racially profile, adding:

“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.”

A report issued by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which looked at non-traffic infractions between July 2018 and December 2019 from 15 major law enforcement agencies, showed Black adults were 9.7 times more likely to be cited by law enforcement than white adults.

Latinos were 5.7 times likely to be cited than white adults, the report said.

The organization looked at data collected through the state’s Racial Identity and Profiling Act.

Ting’s office said lawmakers are expected to debate the proposed bill at an undetermined April committee hearing.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Walk San Francisco.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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