THE JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE issues hundreds of pedestrian citations a year, drawing on an array of 28 separate statutes governing how people get around on foot in Florida’s most populous city. There is, of course, the straightforward jaywalking statute, barring people from crossing against a red light.
But in Jacksonville, pedestrians can also be ticketed for crossing against a yellow light, for “failing to cross a street at a right angle,” for not walking on the left side of a road when there are no sidewalks, or alternatively for not walking on a sidewalk when one is available.
By Topher Sanders and Kate Rabinowitz, ProPublica, and Benjamin Conarck, Florida Times-Union
The sheriff’s office says the enforcement of the full variety of pedestrian statutes is essential to keeping people alive in a city with one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the nation. The office also says the tickets are a useful crime-fighting tool, allowing officers to stop suspicious people and question them for guns and or drugs.
However, a ProPublica/Florida Times-Union analysis of five years of pedestrian tickets shows there is no strong relationship between where tickets are being issued and where people are being killed. The number of fatal crashes involving pedestrians, in fact, climbed every year from 2012 to 2016, the most recent years for which complete data is available.
What the analysis does show is that the pedestrian tickets — typically costing $65, but carrying the power to damage one’s credit or suspend a driver’s license if unpaid — were disproportionately issued to blacks, almost all of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In the last five years, blacks received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville, while only accounting for 29 percent of the population. Blacks account for a higher percentage of tickets in Duval County than any other large county in Florida.
Blacks, then, were nearly three times as likely as whites to be ticketed for a pedestrian violation. Residents of the city’s three poorest zip codes were about six times as likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s other, more affluent 34 zip codes.
Tickets for some of the less familiar statutes were issued even more disproportionately to blacks. Seventy-eight percent of all tickets written for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” were issued to blacks. As well, blacks accounted for 68 percent of all recipients of tickets issued for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or shortest route.”
John Fitzgerald Kendrick, a truck driver, got out of his truck after encountering Jacksonville sheriff’s officers in April of 2015. Once out of his truck, he was immediately ordered to the ground by an officer, who pointed a Taser gun at him. He was arrested and issued a ticket for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided.” Kendrick fought the ticket and it was dismissed by a judge.
Brianna Nonord, 13, wound up in handcuffs and detained by an officer that same month in 2015 after she walked away from an officer trying to write her a ticket for having “failed to cross in a crosswalk” on her way home from school.
Maurice Grant, a lawyer with the federal public defender’s office, was walking near the federal courthouse in May of 2016 when he was cited for crossing against a red light.
The ProPublica/Times-Union analysis also found that the sheriff’s office had issued hundreds of erroneous tickets for crossing the street while not in a crosswalk. The mistakes, identified by a detailed ProPublica/Times-Union review of the locations where the tickets were given, appear to have resulted from a misunderstanding of the statute on the part of the sheriff’s officers. The often misapplied crosswalk statute accounted for more tickets than any other, and again, blacks were over-represented in that category of ticket.
In interviews, the sheriff’s department’s second-in-command, Patrick Ivey, said any racial discrepancies could only be explained by the fact that blacks were simply violating the statutes more often than others in Jacksonville.
“Were the citations given in error?” Ivey asked. “I have nothing to suggest that. Were they given unjustified? I have nothing to suggest that.”
In response to the ProPublica/Times-Union findings, Sheriff Mike Williams said, “Let me tell you this: There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets.”
Ivey said stopping people for pedestrian violations as a means for establishing probable cause to search them was also fully justified. “Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Ivey said.
Lots of police agencies across the country in recent years have been found to have improperly targeted African Americans and other minorities. The New Jersey State Police profiled minority drivers on the state’s highways.
The New York Police Department’s policy of stop-and-frisk was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge after statistics showed minorities, while making up half the city’s population, accounted for 83 percent of all such encounters with police. Similar issues with stop-and-frisk practices have surfaced in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
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