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Gavin Newsom Decriminalized Jaywalking

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Written By Habibi Bridges:

Great news! Daddy Newsom has officially decriminalized what we’ve already been doing: jaywalking! While this virtually doesn’t change much, this is actually a good thing for vulnerable people living in low income neighborhoods where cops unfairly choose to enforce arbitrary laws at the expense of California’s most vulnerable residents.

Gavin Newsom just signed a new jaywalking law into existence–that is, AB 2147, which allows pedestrians to cross streets outside of a major intersection whenever it is deemed safe enough to do so. Also known as The Freedom to Walk Act, this new bill that was signed last Friday will allow Californians to jaywalk without the risk of being ticketed. This law is to be taken into effect come the new year in 2023 – 01/01/2023

This law will apply to all streets, save for intersections and as long as it is visibly “safe to do so.”

Phil Ting, who introduced the bill, argued that “It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street. When expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”

Advocates for the law allege that jaywalkers will no longer be ticketed, the streets will become safer for minorities and low-income residents. As someone who has witnessed a jaywalking fatality recently, I too support this new bill and think it will do more good than bad.

I saw a man hit by a car in Richmond, CA in late 2020. He died at the scene. I was shaken having seen the man thrown fifteen feet forward and then be still. I remember his baseball cap flying off his head mid air. The man who had decided to run into a traffic intersection during rush hour as the sky was darkening. He was hit by an impatient driver during congested traffic, seemingly hoping to make the freeway ramp before the light turned yellow. After the pedestrian landed, he never moved again–save for his blood that slowly seeped into a small pool around his body. The driver came out of the car and checked for a pulse, but there was none.

Despite having witnessed a pedestrian fatality due to jaywalking, I support this law knowing it would not have prevented what I saw. Unfortunately, there are mentally ill people on the streets who will cross the street when it is unsafe, which is what I witnessed. This law will not prevent them and will not punish them however it will protect lower income Californians who can now safely cross a street when there is a lull in traffic.

Since lower income communities are more likely to live in underfunded districts that don’t have enough resources to build proper crosswalks or provide adequate upkeep to local infrastructure, residents may be more likely to jaywalk out of necessity. Additionally, law enforcement tends to frequent lower income neighborhoods. The combination of lousy infrastructure and an increased enforcement presence poses a greater risk towards low income residents and minorities. Every so often, confrontations between low income minorities and law enforcement over benign infractions turn deadly, thus limiting possible confrontations is key to safer neighborhoods.

Given that inflation is causing the price of goods to soar, ticketing those who are barely scraping by just adds insult to injury–considering jaywalking a non punishable offense is one step closer to giving these communities a break for once. For those who live paycheck to paycheck in one of the most expensive states in the country, tickets are incredibly expensive and only punish the poor.

Just to make it clear, this law isn’t protecting the negligent. It clearly outlines that pedestrians are to only cross the street when it is safe for them and drivers both. It’s a reasonable accommodation for both drivers and pedestrians, and will limit law enforcement confrontation that could pose a higher risk for California, especially Californians of color. 

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