A new report co-published by the Florida Times Union and journalism non-profit ProPublica revealed strong evidence that the sheriff’s office in Jacksonville has been racially profiling people of color for pedestrian citations. While such tickets might seem a minor annoyance, the disproportionate way in which they are reportedly being doled out raises serious concerns that the department could be disparately deploying justice. If it’s happening with pedestrian tickets, it’s not an enormous leap of logic to suppose it may be happening when it comes to other offenses too.
Our traffic ticket defense lawyers know that a simple allegation of racial discrimination won’t necessarily stand up as a defense in court. While it could be grounds to file a civil rights lawsuit, in criminal or traffic courts, the main issue will be the reasonable suspicion to stop the individual and the strength of evidence of a crime or violation.
As far as these citations, Florida has a wide range of 28 different statutes pedestrians are required to follow. There are prohibitions on everything from jaywalking to crossing the street against a red light. Local ordinance in Jacksonville also allows ticketing for crossing the street at anything other than a right angle, crossing at a yellow light or not walking on the left side of the road that lacks a sidewalk. The sheriff’s office insists it must vigorously enforce these provisions because Florida has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the country. That is true, of course, but the journalists discovered the laws aren’t being applied unilaterally.
First of all, the tickets aren’t being issued at intersections that have been identified as dangerous for pedestrians, where the most fatal crashes occur. Instead, records show, they are issued in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and disproportionately to the black residents there. Over the course of five years, while blacks accounted for 29 percent of the population, they received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets. Blacks were three times as likely to receive these traffic tickets (which typically cost about $65 each) than their white counterparts. Those who live in the three poorest zip codes within the city were six times as likely to receive pedestrian traffic tickets than those who lived in the city’s wealthier zip codes.
The sheriff’s office defended these numbers by arguing that black people were violating the law more than others in the city. The second-in-command at the sheriff’s office said there was no evidence to indicate the tickets weren’t justified. He also said that stopping individuals for pedestrian violations as a means to establish probable cause to search the individual isn’t wrong either.
Of course, Jacksonville isn’t the first to display this kind of disparity. You may recall a few years ago, The New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, which was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. Police agencies in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and elsewhere grappled with the same issue. In Ferguson, Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded police there were enforcing civil codes and traffic violations disproportionately against minority communities in order to drum up revenue for the city.
That doesn’t appear to be the case exactly in Jacksonville, as these citations only amount to about $70,000 a year. However, thousands of those fines are still outstanding, meaning they are forwarded to collections agencies and have the potential to harm your credit. It can also lead to a suspended driver’s license.
Reporters did touch on the issue of pedestrian safety, they snapped several photographs of uniformed police officers themselves violating these same pedestrian laws – repeatedly.
As noted by legal analysts, these tactics are not only ineffective, they serve to alienate the communities targeted. More than 33 percent of the pedestrian tickets issued over the course of several years in Jacksonville were given to black males between the ages of 14 and 35.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Walking While Black, Nov. 16, 2017, By Topher Sanders and Kate Rabinowitz, ProPublica, and Benjamin Conarck, Florida Times Union
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