Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, announced Thursday that he is introducing a state bill to decriminalize jaywalking in an effort to prevent police encounters that could potentially become life-threatening.
Ting's Assembly Bill 1238, also known as the Freedom To Walk Act, would legalize crossings that are safe and outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light and would also outlaw fines.
According to Ting, jaywalking citations are often times disproportionality given to low-income people and people of color, resulting in fines totaling hundreds of dollars and are sometimes used as a pretext by law enforcement to stop people of color.
Ting cited recent cases where jaywalking citations involving Black people resulted in tragedies. Kurt Reinhold was fatally shot by Orange County deputies during a confrontation over jaywalking in 2020; Chinedu Okobi died after being tased by Millbrae police in 2018 after jaywalking; and Nandi Cain was severely beaten by a Sacramento police officer in 2017 after being accused of jaywalking.
"Whether it's someone's life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction," Ting said in a statement. "It's time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians."
"Jaywalking citations criminalize low-income communities of color and do not advance public safety or deter jaywalking," said Rio Scharf with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. "We can have safe streets without criminal punishment for walking -- and we have seen this to be true in wealthy, white neighborhoods where jaywalking occurs but citations are not enforced."
According to data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act, Black Californians are up to four and a half times more likely to be stopped for jaywalking than their white counterparts.
Earlier this month, the state of Virginia became the first U.S. state to decriminalize jaywalking and New York has already taken steps to enact something similar.