More Pols — And The Mayor, Too — Demand Answers from NYPD on ‘Jaywalking While Black’

Six against the NYPD (clockwise from top left): Donovan Richards, Rafael Salamanca, Andrew Cohen, Brad Lander, Diana Ayala and Vanessa Gibson.
Six against the NYPD (clockwise from top left): Donovan Richards, Rafael Salamanca, Andrew Cohen, Brad Lander, Diana Ayala and Vanessa Gibson.

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Six more members of the City Council — and now Mayor de Blasio himself! — are demanding answers from NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea about his officers’ “racial disparities in the enforcement of jaywalking,” after Streetsblog’s investigation into summonses for illegal walking revealed that recipients of the tickets are always black or Hispanic.

The six Council Members — Public Safety Committee Chairman Donovan Richards, plus Bronx members Diana Ayala, Andrew Cohen, Vanessa Gibson and Rafael Salamanca and Brooklyn member Brad Lander — sent a letter to Shea demanding to know why 89.5 percent of the 397 tickets issued for illegal crossing, or what the NYPD and the automobile industry calls “jaywalking,” were issued to blacks and Hispanics.

The letter also noted that roughly 40 percent of the “jaywalking” tickets were issued in three Bronx precincts with high populations of blacks and Hispanics. As such, the council members demanded that Shea turn over internal records as to why pedestrians in those “majority minority” neighborhoods are being targeted.

“We ask for you to send the Council data on the specific streets and intersections of where these summonses were issued so we can have a better understanding of the justification for this type of enforcement, particularly in the 42nd, 76th, 44th, 40th, and 52nd Precincts, where the majority of jaywalking summonses were issued last year,” the six lawmakers wrote.

The NYPD has said that summonses for illegal road crossing are a part of the agency’s larger Vision Zero mandate, but the council members called on Shea to get specific.

“We would like to know how often jaywalking has been proven to result in pedestrian injuries and fatalities, the communities that the injuries and fatalities happen in most often, the demographics of the people injured or killed, and how often the NYPD reports these incidents and offenses,” the group said.

An NYPD spokesman had told Streetsblog earlier this week that there is no systematic effort to harass blacks and Hispanics, but the council members’ letter suggests that it doesn’t matter if the enforcement is intentional or not.

“Regardless of how sincere the effort is to bridge the gap between communities and law enforcement through neighborhood-policing, targeting black and brown New Yorkers for committing the lowest of offenses that every New Yorker does from time to time will only lead to greater divisions,” the group said.

The letter follows a promise made this week by Council Speaker Corey Johnson to get to the bottom of the issue. The mayor, who runs the NYPD but was apparently unaware of its enforcement of dangerous walking until he was asked about it at an unrelated press conference on Tuesday, approved of the council’s effort.

“We’re going to work on any time a question of disparity comes up. I want to see it addressed,” the mayor said. “[We must] ensure that policing is fair across all communities. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for a jaywalking ticket, in this world we got to figure out with real challenges with busier and busier streets how we use enforcement for everyone the right way. But it has to be fair so, I think if the council is trying to ensure that it’s fair I commend them, and we’ll work with them.”

The NYPD did not respond.

— With Julianne Cuba

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John Petro is a policy analyst for New York City affairs and the co-author of “Vision Zero: How Safer Streets in New York City Can Save More Than 100 Lives a Year.” Mayor Bill de Blasio released his administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan earlier this week, following up on a high-profile campaign promise just six […]