California will soon decriminalize jaywalking, doing away with enforcement of a policy that critics say allows police to punish pedestrians with needlessly expensive fines, often in racially-motivated ways. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Freedom To Walk Act. Critics have long said that anti-jaywalking laws, which criminalize crossing the street outside of designated crosswalks, often levy harsh fine on pedestrians and do little to increase public safety They argue those laws give the police a reason to write hefty tickets disproportionately to black and Hispanic pedestrians, reports Reason. California pioneered anti-jaywalking statutes and now is reversing course.
The Freedom to Walk Act leaves California's anti-jaywalking statutes on the books, but will prevent police from ticketing people who jaywalk safely until 2029. The law does not completely eliminate pedestrian safety requirements. After it goes into effect at the start of the new year, police will still be able to ticket individuals who cross the street when a "reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of collision." This leaves the door open to uneven enforcement. Jaywalking tickets can often accumulate and lead to burdensome debts for low-income individuals. JA 2019 Salt Lake Tribune analysis found that two-thirds of Salt Lake City's jaywalking tickets were handed out in a one-block radius of a hub of the city's homeless services. In Bakersfield, Ca., 92 percent of jaywalking citations occurred in low-income census tracts. In 2020, an unarmed homeless man named Kurt Reinhold was fatally shot after an Orange County, Ca., police officer stopped him for jaywalking, an incident that Assemblymember said inspired the Freedom To Walk Act.