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‘Jaywalking While Black’: Final 2019 Numbers Show Race-Based NYPD Crackdown Continues

Crossing against a traffic light is done by everyone in New York City — yet the NYPD almost always only tickets blacks and Hispanics.

The final 2019 numbers for "jaywalking" summonses are in and ... the NYPD is still carrying out a racially suspect policy of ticketing black and Hispanic pedestrians.

Over the entire year, cops issued 90 percent of illegal walking tickets citywide to blacks and Hispanics, mirroring Streetsblog's findings for the first three-quarters of 2019 — an investigation that led to strong denunciations of the NYPD from a wide range of political officials.

The final numbers for 2019 reveal:

    • Total tickets issued for illegal or unsafe crossing: 397
    • Tickets issued to blacks and Hispanics (where race is indicated on the summons): 354 (89.8 percent).
    • To people aged 25 and under: 213 (53.6 percent)

Blacks and Hispanics comprise about 55 percent of the population. People between 18 and 25 are roughly 7 percent.

The final data for the year (above in graphic form) follow almost exactly the pattern for the first three-quarters of the year, when 89.8 percent of the summonses were issued to blacks and Hispanics, and 52.8 percent were issued to people 25 and under.

The same geographical bias also recurred. In our three-quarters analysis, 52 percent of all the summonses were issued in the Bronx and 9 percent were issued in pedestrian-crowded Manhattan. By the end of the year, those numbers held: 52 percent were issued in the Bronx and 10 percent were issued in Manhattan.

The NYPD denied any racial bias.

"NYPD officers have discretion," said police spokesman Al Baker, a former New York Times reporter. "Officers enforce jaywalking if a specific condition exists, at that moment, that would require that enforcement action without consideration of race or ethnicity." (Streetsblog avoids the term "jaywalking," which was created by the auto industry in the last century to criminalize walking and absolve car drivers for killing pedestrians.)

Obviously, with so few tickets being issued — fewer than one per day — the NYPD is not engaged in a systematic enforcement push against a "crime" committed by tens of thousands of New Yorkers of all races every day.

But even if officers are indeed only writing tickets in egregious illegal crossing cases, a reasonable person would expect to find summonses being handed out in proportion to the racial makeup of the city, given that people of all races cross against traffic signals.

Also, if the NYPD was pursuing summonses as a safety imperative, one would expect tickets to be issued at known Vision Zero hotspots, such as Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Northern Boulevard in Queens; Borough Park, Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Williamsburg in Brooklyn; the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side and West Harlem in Manhattan; and University Heights, almost all of the East Bronx and Hunts Point in the Bronx — yet not a single "jaywalking" ticket was issued those neighborhoods' precincts last year.

Meanwhile, precinct commanders in just a few commands are responsible for virtually all of the "jaywalking" tickets issued last year. In fact, just three out of the city's 77 precincts (less than 4 percent) accounted for nearly 40 percent of all illegal crossing tickets last year:

    • The 42nd Precinct in the Bronx (Claremont Village): Cops wrote 54 summonses, 94 percent of them to blacks and Hispanics.
    • The 40th Precinct in the Bronx (South Bronx): 53 summonses, 96 percent to blacks and Hispanics.
    • The 44th Precinct in the Bronx (High Bridge): 37 summonses, 97 percent to blacks and Hispanics

In those cases, the number of tickets issued to blacks and Hispanics is roughly proportional to their population in those communities. But in the two precincts with the next highest number of summonses, the racial pattern is far less balanced:

    • The 76th Precinct in Brooklyn (Cobble Hill, Red Hook): 37 summonses, 65 percent to blacks and Hispanics, though they represent just 33 percent of the neighborhood's population. (A call to Deputy Inspector Megan O'Malley was not returned.)
    • The 52nd Precinct in the Bronx (Norwood): 28 summonses, 100 percent to blacks and Hispanics, who comprise 86 percent of the neighborhood.

A full 37 precincts — roughly half — did not issue more than one illegal walking ticket at all last year, more evidence that the enforcement of jaywalking is arbitrary. Many of those no-ticket commands comprise neighborhoods where many pedestrians were injured last year.

Since Streetsblog's preliminary article was posted earlier this month, many elected officials have condemned the NYPD's enforcement strategy.

“Punishing pedestrians and targeting communities of color is no way to make our city safer,” tweeted Council Speaker Corey Johnson, adding that racially biased ticketing is “not how we build a positive relationship between police and the communities that have borne the brunt of overpolicing.”

Johnson's comment prompted one police union to accuse the speaker of bias, which is ironic, given the topic at hand and the substantial evidence that the NYPD has a racial blind spot when it comes to enforcing some crimes.

Even if the NYPD or its rank-and-file officers don't take the issue seriously, it certainly connects to their constituents of color. A recent online petition — with the headline, "Walking These Streets Could Get You a Hefty Ticket....If You Aren't White" — quickly generated nearly 9,000 signatures on the anti-bigotry site Care2.

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