An analysis of Jacksonville, Florida’s stringent pedestrian safety laws found that police officers disproportionately enforce the rules in the city’s Black community—not in areas with high pedestrian fatality rates—and ticket African American pedestrians disproportionately for obscure violations, the Florida Times-Union reported.
The ticket data indicates that the police are selectively enforcing the statutes in a way that resembles harassment and targeting, said Kenneth Nunn, a University of Florida law professor. “If we’re seeing searches on a broad basis that seem to be concentrated in poor Black communities that suggests an ulterior motive for the searches that are ongoing,” he added.
Like most cities, Jacksonville prohibits typical pedestrian acts like jaywalking. But unlike most other cities, the Jacksonville police have an extensive list of 28 pedestrian statutes to choose from if they want to stop and search someone on the streets. Some of the statutes are odd, such as failing to cross a street at a right angle. The police insist that the laws are on the books to prevent pedestrian fatalities. However, the joint investigation by the Times-Union and ProPublica, which analyzed 5 years of pedestrian ticketing, revealed that the police neglect to enforce the laws in places that have a high pedestrian fatality rate. Indeed, the number of pedestrian fatalities climbed from 2012 to 2016.
“Let me tell you this: There is not an active effort to be in Black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets,” Sheriff Mike Williams said. The facts, however, tell a different story. Over the past five years, Blacks received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville—even though they account for just 29 percent of the population. The police also wrote tickets for obscure violations disproportionately to Black pedestrians. For example, Blacks received 68 percent of all tickets for the infamous failure to cross a street at a right angle.