Democrat Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco is urging the California to repeal its law against jaywalking following several high-profile incidents where jaywalking led to the death of a person of color.
The legislation, AB1238 or the Freedom to Walk Act, would decriminalize jaywalking across the state.
“Whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction. It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians,” Ting said in a statement.
According to the SF Chronicle, Kurt Andreas Reinhold was killed following an altercation with officers as they tried to stop him for jaywalking. The incident, which took place in Orange County, was caught on video. Reinhold could be heard asking, “Where did I jaywalk?”
In another incident in 2018, Chinedu Okobi died while being tased and beat with batons by San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies after allegedly jaywalking. In 2017, Nandi Cain was beaten by Sacramento police for the same reason. Cain was later released without charges.
Ting’s legislation would make it legal to cross a street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light when it doesn’t cause an “immediate hazard,” which is a vague definition that the bill’s sponsors claim they are working on elucidating with law enforcement.
Jared Sanchez of the California Bicycle Coalition and sponsor of the bill said in an email, “we’re focusing specifically on repealing jaywalking laws that prohibit a pedestrian from even crossing mid-block or against a light.” He added that jaywalking laws give officers an opportunity for racial profiling.
A September report from the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area found that Black and Latino Californians received a higher number of citations for minor offenses like jaywalking relative to whites.
According to Elisa Della-Piana, the group’s legal director, the government spends millions of dollars “discriminatorily” enforcing the rule against people of color, even when fees are largely uncollectable.
The bill would eliminate all fines from jaywalking, some of which currently exceed $250 dollars.