Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law Friday that will decriminalize jaywalking across California, ending the familiar practice of police handing out tickets to pedestrians on the argument that the law is enforced more often against minorities than other people.
The new law, AB 2147, known as the “Freedom to Walk Act,” could bring an end to a cultural difference that has marked otherwise libertine Californians as being uniquely deferential to laws governing pedestrian traffic. The difference between Californians, who ostensibly tend to obey “don’t walk” signals, and urban dwellers elsewhere in the country, who are notoriously defiant when it comes to crossing against traffic signals, was lampooned in the 2011 film Friends with Benefits, starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake:
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), celebrated the governor’s action in a statement on Friday: “It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street. When expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians,” said Ting. “Plus, we should be encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk for health and environmental reasons.”
AB 2147 is Ting’s second attempt to decriminalize jaywalking in California, as he pursues fairness in the way fines are assessed and prevention of potentially escalating police stops. Jaywalking is arbitrarily enforced throughout California, with tickets disproportionately given to people of color and lower-income individuals who cannot afford tickets that can often total hundreds of dollars. When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2023, fewer working families will struggle to pay the costly citation, and police would not be able to use jaywalking as a pretext to detain someone.