Queens Pol: Decriminalize ‘Jaywalking’ Now To Eliminate NYPD Racial Bias
Jaywalking isn’t a crime!
So says Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides, who released on Tuesday a proposed bill that would decriminalize “illegal crossing” so that the NYPD will stop its “arbitrary enforcement overwhelmingly against Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
“Every New Yorker crosses in the middle of the block, but that can end in a ticket depending on your skin color,” Constantinides said, referring to groundbreaking reports by Streetsblog earlier this year revealing that upwards of 90 percent of “jaywalking” tickets issued by the NYPD are handed out to Blacks and Latinos.
“It’s beyond time we end this system by changing these outdated rules, which no longer reflect New York City’s modern day streetscape,” the lawmaker added, also suggesting that ending “jaywalking” would “also pave the way for pedestrian friendly streets.”
The legislation would allow a pedestrian to cross at any place along a street if there is no oncoming traffic.
Currently, Costantinides argued, streets are governed by “rigid, archaic rules in which pedestrians must cross within marked pathways when given a walk signal.”
Anyone cited for these violations — almost always a person of color — then has to go to court to pay a fine, even as drivers can settle their infractions online, he added.
The NYPD has claimed there is no racial bias in issuing “jaywalking” tickets, but Streetsblog’s reports showed that all but one of the 80 jaywalking tickets issued by cops in the first quarter of this year went to blacks or Hispanics.
And 40 percent of the illegal crossing tickets issued in 2019 were in just three Bronx precincts, where almost every person fined was Black or Latinx, Streetsblog also found. Meanwhile, nearly half the city’s 77 police precincts didn’t issue a single jaywalking ticket last year, the analysis found.
The bill will be introduced on Sept. 16 — and advocates support it.
“Crossing the street should not be a crime, especially one that disproportionately targets Black and brown communities,” Marco Conner DiAquoi, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement. “This legislation puts people first on New York City’s streets and would help end harmful and unacceptable racially disparate enforcement.”
Families for Safe Streets member Hsi-Pei Liao, whose 3-year-old daughter, Allison, was killed as she walked legally with her grandmother in a crosswalk, pointed out that jaywalking tickets don’t address the real problem on our streets: drivers.
“Most pedestrians killed or severely injured on New York City streets are struck walking in the crosswalk, with the signal, by turning drivers,” Liao said. “Enforcement against so-called jaywalking doesn’t address the most dangerous behaviors by drivers, and perpetuates the myth that victims are responsible for their own deaths on our streets.”
And lest we forget, jaywalking tickets are the gateway drug to larger police issues. In 2014, police beat up 84-year-old Kang Wong on the Upper West Side after he illegally crossed W. 96th Street. Wong was injured so badly that he was hospitalized.
“The incident, along with several others that followed, underscore the need to decriminalize jaywalking,” Constantinides said in a statement.
Of course, it won’t solve every problem, many critics pointed out on Twitter:
This is low hanging fruit. Sure, it isn't a *bad* move… But when the PD wrote slightly more than 1 jaywalking ticket per day in 2019, it hardly "eliminates" racially biased policing. It's a drop in the bucket. Something easy to point to without making systemic changes.
— MotoBX ???? (@MotoBX) September 15, 2020
We reached out to the NYPD and City Hall for a comment and will update this story when we hear back.
Here’s a copy of Constantinides’s bill: