The priority of Jacksonville, Florida’s newly re-elected sheriff doesn’t include address his department’s practice of targeting African-American pedestrians for tickets.
Voters gave Sheriff Mike Williams a second term on Tuesday. The Republican easily defeated his Democratic rival Tony Cummings with 62 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff in May. Shortly after thanking his supporters on election night, Williams said the priority of his second term is to review patrol zone boundaries, WJXT-TV reported.
“We are always constantly evaluating that. We will, you know, at the end of this year have an assessment done to talk about staffing, talk about our zone realignment,” he said.
Williams has refused to honestly address a study released in 2017 that found officers disproportionately enforce the city’s stringent pedestrian safety laws in the Black community—not in areas with high pedestrian fatality rates—and ticket African-American pedestrians disproportionately for obscure violations.
The ticket data indicated that the police are selectively enforcing the statutes in a way that resembles harassment and targeting, Kenneth Nunn, a University of Florida law professor, told ProPublica. “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.”
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 five 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.
Williams has denied to the City Council and activists that his department has a policy targeting Black people. He produced his own report in 2018 that found a lower percentage of ticketing African-Americans than the report found. Times-Union and ProPublica took a look at his numbers and concluded that they just don’t add up.
Jacksonville is not alone when it comes to targeting predominantly Black communities for ticketing. Data has shown that the Chicago Police Department concentrates its bike enforcement codes in Black neighborhoods. Using the pretext of a minor offense is an easy way to stop and search people.