The Juvenile Segment of ProPublica’s “Walking While Black” Series

Youth Services Insider highly recommendsWalking While Black,” a ProPublica series published this month about the thousands of pedestrian violation tickets issued to people in Jacksonville, Fla., over the past five years.

The ProPublica team pored over records for 2,208 tickets written in that time frame, issued for things like jaywalking, failing to cross a street at a right angle or not walking on a sidewalk. What they found:

  • Fatal accidents involving pedestrians — the logical thing you’d try to reduce by enforcing walking rules — went up in this time frame.
  • About 29 percent of Jacksonville residents are black, but 55 percent of the tickets were issued to black people.
  • Law enforcement leadership viewed a stop for a pedestrian ticket as grounds for a search; ProPublica identified at least 149 tickets that were accompanied by other charges, most for drug possession. “Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Jacksonville Undersheriff Patrick Ivey told ProPublica.
  • This all only counts the cases in which tickets were issued; about 11,000 warnings are issued each year by the sheriff’s office, many in the realm of pedestrian violations.

The series makes a pretty strong case that the practice is a subtler attempt at the “Stop and Frisk” tactics frequently employed by New York City until a court ruled it unconstitutional. New York officers didn’t need any pretense to stop a person under that policy, which led to the search of more than 100,000 youths each year, almost all of them black or Latino.

YSI reached out to Topher Sanders, one of the writers on the project, to see if they were able to break the data down by age. We were curious about what portion of these pedestrian tickets, and potential searches in the aftermath of those tickets, involved teens.

Sanders generously dug the numbers up. Of the 2,208 tickets issued:

  • 143 went to people age 17 or younger. Of those, 71 percent went to black teens.
  • When you add in 18 year olds, the number jumps to 214. And the percentage going to black teens jumps to 73 percent.

One of those teens was Brianna Nonord, 13, who was profiled in the ProPublica series. Nonord was stopped for crossing the road outside the crosswalk, a claim that was actually found later to be erroneous. She was handcuffed and arrested for resisting arrest.

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche told ProPublica she would review the series and speak with the sheriff’s office about it.

“My next step would be to have a meeting with the sheriff to better understand the data you put forth and what it means to the overall operations of our city as it relates to public safety.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1204 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.