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NYPD’s Racial Bias in ‘Jaywalking’ Tickets Continues into 2020

3:01 PM EDT on May 7, 2020

Pedestrians of all races cross against traffic lights — but only blacks and Hispanics are the only ones punished. Photo: Bess Adler

All but one of the jaywalking tickets issued by NYPD cops in the first quarter of this year went to blacks or Hispanics, according to city data that confirms — and worsens — a racially suspect policy first exposed by Streetsblog earlier this year.

From Jan. 1 to March 31, the NYPD wrote 80 tickets for illegal crossing — less than one a day in a city of more than eight million people — and only one went to a person identified in police logs as "white."

The rest — 78 of the 79 tickets for which a race was listed, or 99 percent — went to black or Hispanics, who comprise about 55 percent of the population (chart below or weblink here).

Here are multiple ways to break that down:

    • By race:
      • 51 tickets to alleged jaywalkers listed as "black" (65 percent)
      • 21 tickets to people listed as "white Hispanic" (26 percent)
      • 6 tickets to people listed as "black hispanic" (7 percent)
      • 1 ticket to a person listed as "white" (1 percent)
      • 1 ticket was given to someone of "unknown" race (1 percent).
    • By borough:
      • 41 tickets were issued in The Bronx (51 percent)
      • 19 were issued in Brooklyn (24 percent)
      • 11 were issued in Manhattan (14 percent)
      • 5 were handed out in Queens (6 percent)
      • 4 were issued in Staten Island (5 percent)
    • By age:
      • 8 tickets were issued to youths under 18 (10 percent)
      • 42 tickets were issued to adults aged 18-24 (52 percent)
      • 24 tickets were issued to adults aged 25-45 (30 percent)
      • 5 tickets were issued to people 45-64 years old (6 percent)
      • 1 ticket was issued to someone over 64 (1 percent)
    • By gender:
      • All tickets for whom a gender was known — 79 of 79 — were issued to males (100 percent).

The apparent bias in enforcement of illegal pedestrian crossing continues a pattern exposed by Streetsblog earlier this year, when we found that 89 percent of "jaywalking" tickets issued in 2019 were handed out to blacks and Hispanics. And nearly 54 percent of summonses were given to people aged 25 and under — who comprise just 10 percent of the population.

Streetsblog reached out to the NYPD for comment, but did not hear back by our deadline. Earlier this year, police spokesman Al Baker denied any racial bias.

“NYPD officers have discretion,” said 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. When we use the term, it is always in quotation marks to indicate that it is not our word of choice.)

After our coverage earlier this year, Council Speaker Corey Johnson demanded a probe.

“We’re going figure out what this data actually means,” said Johnson, who had tweeted his concern and commented publicly after reading our coverage of the disproportionate enforcement against blacks and Hispanics. “We know people of color are not jaywalking more than white people, so that shows a disproportionate level of policing in that community, and that’s what we’re gonna look at moving forward.”

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.

One statistic is striking: Last year, cops from the 42nd Precinct in The Bronx, which covers Claremont Village, wrote the most summonses for illegal crossing of any precinct: 13.6 percent of the citywide total. But in the first quarter of 2020, that precinct wrote just three tickets — or just under 4 percent of the citywide total.

The new "jaywalking" summons capital of the city is now the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx, which issued 20 percent of the citywide total between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Nine of the 11 Manhattan tickets were written in the Ninth Precinct, which covers the East Village. It is a simple fact that people cross against traffic signals all over Manhattan.

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