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Kansas City Is Dumping Jaywalking Tickets Because They Mostly Go To Men And African Americans

 A pedestrian crosses Oak Street between 11th and 12th Streets on Wednesday.
A pedestrian crosses Oak Street between 11th and 12th Streets on Wednesday.

In the past three years, Kansas City police issued more than 100 tickets for jaywalking. And far more citations went to men than women, and far more to Black people than whites.

On Thursday, the Kansas City Council voted 10-0 to eliminate tickets and penalties for jaywalking and to limit the chances for what many people see as criminal penalties for simply walking while Black.

Mayor Quinton Lucas and other council members said traffic laws like that expose residents to unnecessary interactions with police. And they said the minor infractions get enforced in biased and arbitrary ways that hassle people of color without doing much to improve public safety.

“This is kind of a ridiculous rule,” Councilman Kevin O’Neill said at Wednesday’s Transportation Committee meeting before Thursday’s full Council vote. “I don’t know if anybody follows it anyway. … This is something that should just be abolished all together,”

Civil rights groups, BikeWalkKC and other advocacy organizations supported the decision as the council seeks to reform its traffic enforcement, repealing laws that criminalize normal activity and disproportionately penalize people of color.

According to Municipal Court statistics, 123 jaywalking tickets were issued in Kansas City from 2018 through 2020. Of those, 65% were written to Black people and 34% were written to white people.

Those same statistics showed 83% of tickets were written to men and 16% to women.

Jane Brown, general counsel to the mayor, told the committee Wednesday that for all pedestrian tickets in Kansas City during that time, 54% were written to Black people versus 45% to whites.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said the numbers showed clear inequities.

“These statistics show that overwhelmingly men are targeted, and I don’t think men jaywalk more than women do,” she said, adding that violations were “overwhelmingly going to minority members of this community.”

Shields also reminded her colleagues that an officer initially stopped Michael Brown for walking in the middle of a residential street in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Brown was subsequently shot and killed by the officer, which kicked off months of racial unrest and protests in the St. Louis area.

“If we look back to what happened in Ferguson,” Shields said, “that’s what started that whole thing was somebody walking unlawfully in the street.”

In testimony earlier this year, Kansas City police expressed concerns about completely eliminating the jaywalking violation from city code. If a motorist does nothing wrong and accidentally hits someone negligently walking in traffic, citing the pedestrian was considered a way to protect the driver from civil liability.

But Brown told council members the city has other laws that can be applied in that circumstance.

Councilwoman Teresa Loar asked whether this action would enable panhandlers to be in the street and dangerously block traffic. Brown responded that panhandlers are supposed to remain on the median, and other city laws cover that situation.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3