Why we should get rid of jaywalking laws

Jaywalking shouldn't be a crime. Everyone does it; it's part of the self-governing behavior of urbandwellers, and is so routine that I've suspected it plays a crucial role in a city's everyday mobility. Countries that don't criminalize jaywalking have lower rates of people killed in traffic.

Even the police in many US cities would seem to agree that jaywalking laws are silly, because they ignore a ton of jaywalking.

The exception? Black Americans — they're dramatically more likely to be charged with jaywalking than white folks. What's worse, several jaywalking arrests of black residents in recent years have spiraled into abuse, violence and even death — as with Trayvon Martin, or the case that recently came to light of Johnnie Jermaine Rush: after Rush jogged away from two officers who stopped him for jaywalking, they strangled, punched and tasered him.

This, as Matt Ford argues in this excellent piece in the New Republic, is yet more evidence that jaywalking laws need to go. They're selectively enforced in a racist pattern:

Jaywalking is a trivial crime, one that virtually every person has committed multiple times in their life. This makes it susceptible to arbitrary enforcement. Sacramento's black residents are five times more likely to receive a jaywalking citation than their non-black neighbors. Seattle police handed out 28 percent of jaywalking citations from 2010 to 2016 to black pedestrians, who only make up 7 percent of the city's population. [snip]

Eliminating jaywalking and similar offenses won't lead to anarchy on American roads. It's not illegal in countries like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, for example, and both countries enjoy markedly fewer traffic fatalities than the United States. It's not clear how much money flows into state coffers from pedestrian tickets, but it's likely far less than traffic tickets for drivers. Any lost income may also be offset by the savings for police departments. Fewer unnecessary contacts between officers and citizens means fewer costly lawsuits and officer dismissals.

The greatest benefit, however, would be to over-policed communities who bear the brunt of jaywalking enforcement. There's no convincing reason that Johnnie Jermaine Rush, Nandi Cain Jr., and Michael Brown should have been stopped by police in the first place. No one should be beaten, or lose their life, just for crossing the road.

(CC-licensed image above via Wikimedia)