From WTOP News:
Wyatt Gordon/Virginia Mercury
December 25, 2020, 10:54 PM
Though it didn’t garner as much attention as other police reform measures during the special legislative session that ended this fall, a provision to decriminalize jaywalking in a pretextual policing bill from Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, means that come March 1, police will no longer be able to stop folks for the act of crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk.
Criminal justice reformers called it a small step along the path to reducing encounters with the police, especially for people of color.
Although jaywalking will remain illegal, other advocates worry decriminalization could encourage pedestrians towards further unsafe crossings at a time when Virginia’s pedestrian death rate is already at a record high.
But are such fears founded?
…The passage of laws making jaywalking expressly illegal over the following decades also led to an increase in pedestrian interactions with the police. African Americans have long complained of police stops for the offense of “walking while Black.”
A 2019 audit of the New York Police Department revealed that officers issued 90 percent of “illegal or unsafe crossing” tickets to Blacks and Hispanics although those two groups make up just 55 percent of the Big Apple’s population. A ProPublica investigation in Jacksonville, Florida similarly found Black residents received 78 percent of all tickets for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” despite comprising just 29 percent of the city’s population.
… Focusing on the act of jaywalking is to ignore the larger historical and structural context that has made crossing the road so dangerous, especially for people of color, argues Charles T. Brown, a senior researcher and adjunct professor at Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.
“I find it disingenuous to hold accountable a population for jaywalking when they lack the proper infrastructure to traverse their communities safely to begin with,” he said. “People jaywalk out of necessity, so I find it unjust that we are targeting those who jaywalk when they are basically responding to the environment which they have been given.”
Brown points to racism in many instances of America’s push for urban renewal which often demolished prosperous Black neighborhoods in favor of imposing infrastructure like inner-city highways. In Richmond, the destruction of a large portion of Jackson Ward — the Harlem of the South — for I-95 and the bulldozing of part of the Black community of Granite for new highways are a few Virginia examples of the practice.
“By destroying the very fabrics of these communities by placing highways here, the government has prioritized the car over the safety of the folks who live in these communities and then over polices residents trying to navigate these dangerous corridors,” Brown said. “Only an unjust system would not provide people with the infrastructure they need to safely move through their environment and then police them for not doing so.”
The criminalization of jaywalking also ignores logical, safety-based reasons people may cross mid-block. “In some cases people are choosing jaywalking over confrontation and potential violence,” said Brown.
Brown hopes decriminalizing jaywalking may lead to a paradigm shift in how pedestrians in overpoliced areas perceive their world.
Obviously, if people feel compelled to jaywalk because if they walked all the way to the corner they might run into a neighbor who might murder them then they live in an overpoliced area.