Analysis Finds Tickets Disproportionately Issued to Black Pedestrians


Cameron Cottrill for ProPublica

A ProPublica/Florida Times-Union analysis of pedestrian tickets issued in Jacksonville, Florida, from 2012 to July 2017 found that Black pedestrians were nearly three times as likely to receive a ticket as nonBlack pedestrians.

Black pedestrians received 55 percent of the tickets issued even though the city’s population is only 29 percent Black. Almost a third of all tickets issued in this period went to African American males from age 14 to 35.

Jacksonville has 28 separate pedestrian statutes that range from prohibiting jaywalking (crossing against a red light) and crossing against a yellow light to requiring pedestrians to cross a street at a right angle, walk on the left side of a road when there are no sidewalks, and walk on a sidewalk when one is available.

Even larger racial disparities exist in ticketing for violations of less-familiar statutes. For example, 78 percent of all tickets for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” were issued to Black pedestrians, as were 68 percent of tickets for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or shortest route.”

ProPublica concluded that “Jacksonville’s enforcement of pedestrian violations raises concerns that it’s another example of racial profiling” — like stop-and-frisk policies in New York, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles; racial profiling of minority drivers in New Jersey; and the pervasive disproportionate enforcement of traffic violations and civil codes against African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office told reporters that its officers use pedestrian infractions to stop, question, and search people they perceive as suspicious. Data about searches and arrests following pedestrian violations is sparse, but ProPublica used court records to identify at least 149 cases in which a pedestrian violation led to a search and subsequent additional charge. Those charged with more serious offenses tend to be African American, and overall, 80 percent of people charged with other offenses on top of a pedestrian violation were Black.

The sheriff’s office said issuing tickets is necessary to reduce fatalities in Florida’s most populous city, which has one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the country. But ProPublica found no strong relationship between where tickets are issued and where fatalities occur. In fact, census tracts where the population is mostly Black had similar numbers of deadly crashes compared to other neighborhoods, but residents there were ticketed anywhere from two to five times as much.

The sheriff’s office wrote 264 pedestrian tickets in 2012, 353 in 2013, 422 in 2014, 252 in 2015, and 411 in 2016. But the number of fatal crashes involving pedestrians has increased every year from 2012 to 2016.

ProPublica‘s analysis also found that the sheriff’s office issued 353 erroneous tickets for crossing the street while not in a crosswalk. The mistakes appear to have resulted from the officers’ misunderstanding of the crosswalk statute, which accounted for more tickets than any other provision. Black pedestrians were over-represented in that category of ticket, and 48 percent of the erroneous crosswalk tickets were issued to Black pedestrians.

Typically costing $65, pedestrian tickets significantly disrupt the lives of poor people, who were about six times as likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s more affluent zip codes, ProPublica found.

Unpaid fines and fees are sent to collections agencies, and can damage the credit of those unable to pay. Pedestrian tickets also can lead to suspensions or revocations of driver’s licenses, and even after they are paid, the tickets can cost a person points on their driver’s license or commercial license, which is especially damaging for truck and bus drivers.

“You have communities that are already suffering economically, and then you’re putting additional economic burdens on the people there that then affect the driver’s license,” Jacksonville lawyer Leslie Scott Jean-Bart told reporters. “You’re talking about work. You get pulled over a couple times, you end up in jail. The next thing you know, it’s a felony. It just keeps going and keeps going.”

Black pedestrians in Jacksonville, FL, were nearly 3 times as likely to receive a ticket as nonBlack pedestrians.