Jaywalking in California would be decriminalized under proposed law

A California lawmaker is trying again to decriminalize jaywalking – an effort that failed last legislative season.

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) on Wednesday said that his second effort, now called AB 2147, makes technical changes to address the concerns stated in Gov. Gavin Newsom's veto message a similar bill last year.

But Newsom  wrote in his veto that he worried the law could unintentionally increase the state’s already high rate of pedestrian fatalities.

So, instead of repealing the state’s jaywalking laws, Ting said his new bill defines when an officer can stop a pedestrian for jaywalking - specified as only when a "reasonably careful person would realize there’s an immediate danger of a collision."

"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. "It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians, especially when we are trying to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk more for health and environmental reasons." 

The "Freedom To Walk Act" would legalize crossings outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light when safe eliminating the need for fines and prevent police from using jaywalking as a pretext to stop Black and Brown people.

Many have commented why a legislator would spend time on such an issue: People simply shouldn't cross the street outside of the crosswalk and against the light. And they should face consequences if they do.

But the consequences of getting stopped for jaywalking have been deadly. 

In September 2020, Orange County sheriff's deputy Eduardo Duran killed Kurt Reinhold, a homeless Black man who deputies stopped after he walked into a street with a red hand signal. The DA cleared the deputy of any wrongdoing. 

In May 2018, Chinedu Okobi,36, was killed in Millbrae after San Mateo County Deputy Joshua Wang stopped him for allegedly jaywalking. Okobi crossed the street to get away from Wang, who then deployed a Taser. Other deputies and Okobi ended up in a violent struggle, where they used batons and pepper spray in addition to more Taser deployments. An autopsy found that Okobi had died from cardiac arrest. The DA cleared the deputies in this case, too. 

And in 2017, Nandi Cain was beaten by Sacramento police after they said he jaywalked at Grand Avenue and Cypress Street. The DA cleared police in this case. The city settled with Cain for $550,000. 

Ting pointed out that in all these cases, the people stopped were Black men. 

And it should also be noted that under-resourced communities often do not have the adequate infrastructure, such as pedestrian crossing buttons or crosswalks, Ting's office pointed out. 

UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Marcel Moran studied San Francisco’s crosswalks and found there are fewer of them in lower-income neighborhoods when compared to wealthier areas.

"Everyone jaywalks, but California police officers are five times more likely to stop a Black person for jaywalking than a white person," Ting said.