California lawmaker wants to decriminalize jaywalking

California Assemblyman Phil Ting wants to repeal the state's jaywalking law and supporters point to past cases where people have died at the hands of police after being accused of walking across the street against the light.

On Thursday, Ting publicly unveiled Assembly Bill 1238, or "The Freedom to Walk Act," at a busy San Francisco crosswalk.

"We want to make sure that pedestrians get to where they want to go as soon as they can," Ting said. "For working families, for low-income families, that's a lot of money to pay at one time."

The bill aims to decriminalize jaywalking across the state, which many say more negatively affects low-income people who can't pay the fines, some of which exceed $250, and people of color who often become targets of the police. 

AB 1238 would make it legal to cross a street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light when it doesn’t cause an immediate hazard and eliminate all fines.

As for what constitutes an immediate hazard, the bill’s sponsors say they are working with law enforcement to determine that, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

At this point, there is no formal opposition to the bill. 

Critics on social media made fun of California focusing on the wrong things and decriminalizing just about everything.

However, jaywalking detention has led to death. 

Three years ago in a highly publicized case, Chinedu Okobi, 36, was stopped by San Mateo County sheriff's deputies after he allegedly crossed the street outside of the crosswalk in Millbrae. 

Deputy Joshua Wang and several other deputies then approached Okobi to confront him about the jaywalking. Wang ended up deploying a Taser and the deputies ended up in a violent struggle with Okobi where they used batons and pepper spray in addition to multiple Taser deployments. Okobi, the brother of a Facebook executive, died from cardiac arrest. All the officers were cleared. 

Supporters, such as Rio Scharf of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the SF Bay Area, say the bill is necessary. 

"Jaywalking is arbitrarily and unfairly enforced across California," his group said in a statement. "Citations are disproportionately given to low-income people of color, and enforcement sometimes leads to fatal encounters with police. When people are charged with jaywalking, the result is hundreds of dollars in fines and fees they cannot afford, and, in some counties, warrants and arrests for people who do not pay or appear in court."

Angie Schmitt, a planning consultant, and Charles T. Brown, a street safety researcher, wrote an opinion piece on Bloomberg listing nine reasons why jaywalking laws have rarely protected pedestrians, and their enforcement is racially biased. They argued there are much better ways to curb traffic violence.