NYPD Targets Blacks and Latinos for ‘Jaywalking’ Tickets

"Jaywalking" — everyone does it. So why are the vast majority of tickets written to blacks and Hispanics?
"Jaywalking" — everyone does it. So why are the vast majority of tickets written to blacks and Hispanics?

The NYPD has found another way to harass people of color: jaywalking tickets.

Police don’t write a lot of them, but between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 last year, cops issued 316 summonses for walking against a traffic light, or crossing mid-block, and 284 of them — or 89.5 percent of the tickets — went to blacks or Hispanics, according to the city’s own summons data, crunched by Streetsblog. Only 55 percent of the city’s population is black and/or Hispanic.

More than half of the tickets — 167, or 53 percent — were issued to people under 25, with 44 percent of the tickets going to people aged 18 to 25, even though that group comprises just 7 percent of the population.

Advocates for basic equity in the administration of justice were appalled by Streetsblog’s findings.

“This is a disgusting and indefensible statistic,” said Anthony Posada, the supervising attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “This speaks volumes to how NYPD officers choose to spend their time and what orders they receive from their superiors, and the mere fact that the NYPD still spends resources on enforcing jaywalking is mystifying. It makes clear that the overall agenda of the institution is to keep communities of color in check at all times.”

Police use the term “jaywalking” in their summonses for crossing against a light or mid-block, though the term itself was created decades ago by the automobile industry to criminalize walking and absolve drivers of responsibility for crashes (as comedian Adam Conover once graphically demonstrated). Nonetheless, city rules do state that pedestrians are “subject to traffic control signals” and that “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the operator to yield.”

So, yes, there is such a thing as illegal walking. But crossing against a signal is basically a New York City birthright — an entitlement enjoyed by blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and all the other tiles in the city’s gorgeous mosaic.

But that’s not how the NYPD sees it. The chart below shows all of the tickets encoded under section 4-04 of the New York City “traffic rules,” the section that covers pedestrian behavior.

The first nine months of 2019 reflected a steep increase in the number of tickets issued by the NYPD compared to the same period in 2018, when cops wrote only 198 such tickets, or 60 percent fewer. It was the first time in the de Blasio era that such anti-pedestrian tickets were increased.

As with this year, the vast majority of pedestrians ticketed were issued to minorities. In the first three quarters of 2017, 297 blacks or Hispanics received the 367 jaywalking tickets where the suspect’s race was known, or 81 percent. Over the same period in 2018, it was 161 out of 192 suspects whose race was known, or 84 percent.

Summonses for “jaywalking,” crossing mid-block, or “walking into traffic unsafely” — the three types of 4-04 violations — had been dropping steadily under Mayor de Blasio, from a high of 1,659 in the first nine months of 2014 to the 198 issued in the first nine months of 2018 before this year’s increase.

With numbers that low, clearly many of the city’s 77 police precincts aren’t bothering to issue the tickets at all. Indeed, in the first three quarters of 2019, only 29 commands bothered to write 4-04 tickets — 52 percent of which were written in the Bronx. The Boogie Down is also home to the precinct that wrote the most jaywalking tickets last year — the 42nd Precinct in the Claremont Village section — which wrote 47 of the borough’s 164 jaywalking summonses.

Manhattan has the most pedestrians, but the fewest “jaywalking” tickets — just 29, or 9 percent. (See map below)

Some precincts which formerly issued a large amount of such summonses have abandoned the practice. For example, the 94th Precinct in Brooklyn issued 30 summonses in 2015, but zero in 2019. 

Streetsblog reached out to City Hall and the NYPD for comment regarding the racial disparity in jaywalking tickets and will update this story if we hear back.

Mayor de Blasio has long denied that there is a “larger policy” when it comes to ticketing pedestrians for disobeying traffic signals.

“That’s not part of our plan, but it is something a local precinct commander can act on, if they perceive there to be a real danger,” he said in 2014, the same year he himself was caught jaywalking.

Kang Wong could get a year in jail for a jaywalking stop that resulted in his arrest. With nine pedestrians and a cyclist killed in 2014, no motorists were charged by NYPD or city DAs for taking a life. Photo: New York Post
Kang Wong was roughed up by cops after allegedly jaywalking. Photo: New York Post

He wasn’t the only one, of course. During the 2014 crackdown, a 84-year old Chinese man was unable to understand the officers who were stopping him for “jaywalking” and walked away. A cop pulled him back, the man gave him a slight push and ended up being beaten by multiple officers.

The same year, a Midwood rabbi was stopped for crossing the street on a Friday night. Since Orthodox Jews don’t carry wallets on Shabbat, he had no ID and was forced to write his name (another prohibition for religious Jews) to receive the summons, violating his faith. 

People who receive “jaywalking” summonses must go to court, which forces people to take time off their job or from their families. Undocumented immigrants risk additional charges.

Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides introduced legislation in 2014 which would have shifted “jaywalking” summonses from the courts to the City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearing, but the bill did not advance.

Constantinides says he will reintroduce it.

“We have to stop criminalizing crossing the street,” said Constantinides. “It’s just as unfair to make a pedestrian face a court appearance, while drivers can simply settle many offenses with a few clicks online.”

It’s not the first time the NYPD has been accused of enforcing the law in a racially biased manner. Obviously, the biggest example was the department’s long-reviled “stop-and-frisk” policy, which was largely abandoned after court challenges.

More recently, the department was criticized for harassing minority youths for not having bells on their bikes, unleashing many stories of overpolicing from such riders.