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California Walks Urges Action on Jaywalking Bill

Image: KTNV-TV

California Walks wrote a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to sign A.B. 1238, a bill that would decriminalize the act of walking across the street. It is an important step in encouraging a cultural shift away from car dominance and towards one where people are not criminals simply for the act of walking across a street.

Advocates have found that in cities across the state, people cross safely mid-block every day because they simply do not have “legal” options. It’s time to recognize that this is not criminal behavior, and that the legal system needs to protect pedestrians rather than punish them.

CalWalks’ letter, below, is worth reading. Note that advocates are also asking people to join them in urging the Governor to sign by tweeting him (@GavinNewsom) or calling him at (916) 445-2841. It’s also super easy to send a quick note via the Governor’s website – there’s even a pulldown menu listing all the bills on his desk.

The California Walks letter:

Dear Governor Newsom:

California Walks writes to underscore the need for your signature on Assembly Bill 1238 – The Freedom to Walk Act. Assembly Bill 1238 has the support of 90 organizations. Collectively, we are the public safety experts on this issue.

Signing Assembly Bill 1238 means ending the punishment of pedestrians for getting around in their neighborhoods the best way they can and shifting our culture from being car-centric to one that provides and encourages safe crossings and spaces for all.

The auto industry created jaywalking laws to blame pedestrians for auto crashes and shame them for simply walking. The word jay has racist and classist roots, describing someone from the country who “cluelessly” ventures out into the city. Pedestrians are still perceived as people who are “cluelessly” navigating our streets because of existing jaywalking laws and the greater car-centric culture. In fact, this is not the case because pedestrians across the state are already crossing safely mid-block, where it is currently not legal because they have no other choice.

To this day, there is no reason, or evidence, to suggest that jaywalking laws advance pedestrian safety. When the Oakland Police Department deprioritized bike and walk stops in 2019, severe pedestrian injuries and deaths dropped by 11 percent. We know that pedestrians are the most vulnerable users on our road, and we must pass laws that protect them, not punish them.

Jaywalking laws are used as tools to criminalize and control Black, Brown, and poor Californians:

  • Data from police departments in Long Beach, San Diego, and Bakersfield found that Black people were 5.18 times more likely to be cited for jaywalking than white people, proportional to their population share.
  • Data from Sacramento found that nearly fifty percent of jaywalking citations in 2016 were given to Black people, despite them making up only 14 percent of the city’s population.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, Los Angeles police wrote 31,712 jaywalking citations. Those tickets were issued disproportionately to Black pedestrians, who represent nearly a third of total citations, but account for about nine percent of the city’s population.
  • Jaywalking fees are incredibly burdensome to low-income communities that are the most targeted. In Bakersfield, for instance, where only 17 percent of census tracts have a median income below 60 percent AMI, 92 percent of all jaywalking citations occurred in these tracts. Once fees and assessments are factored in, jaywalking citations can cost people more than $500.

These disparities are reason enough to legalize safe street crossings now.

You now face a significant opportunity—the opportunity to keep all pedestrians in California safe. Kurt Reinhold, a black man who was stopped for safely crossing against a signal by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, was fatally shot in the ensuing encounter. Nandi Cain Jr., a young black resident of Sacramento, was also stopped for jaywalking, even though he was safely crossing at an unmarked crosswalk. Before he could even explain his actions, an officer threw him to the ground, punched him more than fifteen times, and left him concussed. By reforming the existing law, Assembly Bill 1238 will narrow the grounds for stopping and citing people, reducing the number of unjust and pretextual encounters between police and pedestrians.

Will you sign Assembly Bill 1238 to protect all Californians?

Carolina “Caro” Jauregui
Co-Executive Director

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