California Decriminalizes Jaywalking Over Racist Policing

In a measure proponents say will end the practice of handing out jaywalking tickets to the poor and minorities, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a law decriminalizing the act.

When the new law, the Freedom to Walk Act, takes effect, Californians will be able to cross streets outside of normal intersections as long as it is deemed safe to do so.

Critics have long charged that the law is enforced against minorities more than other people, resulting in unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement and expensive tickets for those least able to afford them.

The bill was sponsored by Assembly member Phil Ting of San Francisco, and the Democrat declared that it should not be a criminal offense to safely walk across the street. The tickets affect “only certain communities,” he said, which made it time to question if the laws “really protect pedestrians.”

As a bonus, Ting added, it may encourage people to get out of their cars and help the environment and their personal health by walking instead.

Plus, he believes it is a good time to “reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources.”

He said the law, which goes into effect at the first of the new year, addresses the history of jaywalking tickets being handed out to “people of color and lower-income individuals” who cannot afford the impact of the citations.

Ting said that the result will be fewer “working families” struggling to pay for the infractions. He also believes that police will no longer be able to use jaywalking as a pretext to detain someone for other reasons.

Protests exploded in 2020 after an Orange County deputy shot and killed a homeless Black man, Kurt Reinhold, after stopping him for allegedly jaywalking across the street. Charges were declined against the sheriff’s deputy.

The crime of jaywalking will still exist next year, but law enforcement officers will only be allowed to stop a pedestrian for it when there is “immediate danger of collision with a moving vehicle or other device moving exclusively by human power.”