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Racial Justice Plays a Role in Jaywalking Debate

For nearly a century, jaywalking has been illegal in most states and localities. Reports have shown that police in some areas disproportionately ticket people of color, Stateline reports. Critics say citing people for crossing at the wrong place just gives them another reason to drive instead of walk.

“It doesn’t really improve safety. It’s part of a culture of blaming pedestrians,” said Mike McGinn of America Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group. “And it’s used to make pretextual police stops that impinge on the ability of people to move about without being stopped, particularly in Black and brown communities.”

In the past two years, a few states have moved away from strict enforcement of jaywalking laws, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic signal without getting cited by police.

At a time when pedestrian deaths are on the rise, opponents of decriminalization say police should be able to issue citations to discourage people from putting their lives in danger.

An estimated 7,485 pedestrians in the U.S. were struck and killed by motorists in 2021—the largest number in four decades, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices.

Black, Hispanic and low-income pedestrians are more likely to be killed while walking. Between 2016 and 2020, Black pedestrians were struck and killed at twice the rate of non-Hispanic White people, said a report by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit coalition of advocacy groups headquartered in Washington, D.C.


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