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Lawmaker seeks to decriminalize jaywalking, says citations disproportionately issued to people of color

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    SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A Bay Area lawmaker is seeking to decriminalize jaywalking in California, saying such citations are disproportionately issued to people of color and have led to life-threatening encounters with law enforcement.

“In California, jaywalking citations are enforced entirely arbitrarily,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

On Thursday, Ting introduced AB1238, dubbed “The Freedom to Walk Act,” which would legalize crossings outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light when safe. The bill is also calling for eliminating all fines and fees that come with jaywalking.

“Whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction,” Ting said Thursday. “It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”

Ting’s office cited data compiled by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act that noted the state’s Black residents were stopped for jaywalking up to 4.5 times more than White residents between 2018 and 2020.

“Everybody jaywalks, whether White, Brown, Black, Asian, all over. But who’s being stopped most frequently disproportionately and who’s being enforced against? It is unfair and unjust,” said Jared Sanchez of the California Bike Coalition, who is supporting the measure.

The assemblymember also noted several deadly police encounters that started as jaywalking stops, including the 2018 death of Chinedu Okobi by San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies in Millbrae. Prosecutors cleared the deputies of criminal charges in the case.

“We need to reduce unnecessary interactions. That incident shows us that,” said Rio Scharf of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights San Francisco, a group also backing AB1238.

Citations also negatively impact lower-income Californians, as fines can reach several hundred dollars due to fees tacked on by courts and local jurisdictions.

Critics of the measure are concerned about more dangerous situations. “I live in the neighborhood and I’ve seen so many close calls,” Inner Sunset San Francisco resident Margot Hill told KPIX 5. She suggests that there should be more enforcement of pedestrian laws.

Scharf said, “There are many neighborhoods in this state where there’s no punishment for walking across the street. And the numbers don’t suggest those areas are more dangerous.”

If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, California would join Virginia in decriminalizing jaywalking.

The proposal follows a measure passed by the legislature several years ago allowing pedestrians to enter a crosswalk to cross the street when the countdown meter began.

Until a few years ago, it was illegal in California to enter a crosswalk and to cross the street, as the countdown meter began.

An initial hearing on AB1238 is set for next month.

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