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‘Freedom to Walk’ act would decriminalize jaywalking when road is clear

Assemblymember Phil Ting will try again to get a bill passed that would prevent jaywalkers from getting handed a citation from police officers for crossing the street outside of a crosswalk when it’s safe.

Unlike last year’s bill, Assembly Bill 1238, authored by Ting (D-San Francisco), which would have repealed the state’s jaywalking laws, his new bill would keep the law on the books but change how law enforcement agencies will enforce jaywalking Ting’s bill last year passed the state legislature but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill.

Ting on Wednesday near City Hall introduced Assembly Bill 2147, called the Freedom to Walk Act, that would allow the legalization of a person to cross a street outside of crosswalk when it is safe to do so and officers would only cite people when “​​only when a reasonably careful person would realize there’s an immediate danger of a collision.”

He said at his press conference that it was a civil rights issue as people of color are disproportionately ticketed for jaywalking:

Unfortunately, African Americans are five times more likely to get cited for crossing the street than anybody else.”

Ting cited recent data in Beverly Hills last year when the city’s police department cited people of color for jaywalking or riding scooters on the sidewalk. A majority of those arrested were Black, the Los Angeles Times reported.

His office also mentioned incidents where police have stopped people for jaywalking, but the incidents turned deadly. In 2018, San Mateo county deputies killed Chinedu Okobi when one deputy approached Okobi for allegedly jaywalking. Okobi was tased by one deputy and approached by other deputies who used batons to beat Okobi. The deputies involved were cleared of violating department policy and were cleared of criminal charges by the county’s district attorney’s office.

Rio Scharf, an attorney for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, said the office serves clients all time who are criminalized for everyday behavior, such as crossing the street, adding that it can a financial impact on person who gets ticketed:

We must put an end to the criminalization of safe street crossings. Jaywalking citations are disproportionately given out to people of color. They lead to pretextual and sometimes life threatening encounters with the police and they straddle people with debt that can last for years.”

Ting said he worked with the governor’s office in making the changes to his bill and is confident the governor will sign it this time around.

The bill will have its first scheduled committee hearing this spring.

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