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Black pedestrians are disproportionately issued tickets in Jacksonville

Getting a pedestrian ticket can damage one's credit or lead to a license suspension. And in Jacksonville, Florida, they are disproportionately issued to black people, according to a joint investigation by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica. Topher Sanders of ProPublica, who co-authored the report, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In Florida’s largest city Jacksonville, police issue more than 400 tickets a year for jaywalking and it turns out they’re disproportionally issued to blacks primarily in the city’s lowest income neighborhoods. This information comes to us from a joint investigation by ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union. One of its authors, ProPublica’s Topher Sanders joins me now in the studio. So how did you investigate this?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    First it started out with the courage of a young man named Vontae Shipman who had the willingness to pull out his cell phone and record his encounter with one of those officers that was giving him a ticket for pedestrian stop. The intensity level of the encounter was such that he had to protect himself. So he uploads it and it starts to go viral. And one of my friends and colleagues at the Florida Times-Union jumped on it, wrote a story, I saw the story called him up and said I think there’s more to this. That’s how the investigation started.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And so when you started to look back you looked at all the tickets that they issued over a certain period of time? What kind of patterns emerged?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    Fifty five percent of them in that county went to blacks – and black folks only make 30 percent of that county!

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So the sheriff’s department is going to say listen, these are the people who are actually committing the crimes and we are just ticketing those people. That’s going to be one of the lines of defense. Right?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    It is. When we looked at census track data because the sheriff’s office said to us that this is about safety and this is about keeping people alive. We’re one of the cities in the country that have pedestrian fatality issue. Sure. And so we want to combat that want to do our part.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That’s an admirable goal. How do you prove or disprove that?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    So we looked at the death data we looked at who was dying and where they were on and we compared it to where they were giving tickets. There was one census track and that’s just a small slice of a community that had one of the highest death rates. But when we looked at the tickets over a five year period they gave nine tickets in this census track.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So you’re saying that in the areas that actually had the worst pedestrian fatalities or accidents that’s not where the tickets were being given?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    The largest distribution of tickets went to the black communities.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Talk a little bit about why we’re even sort of having this conversation. What are the ripple effects if you can’t afford to or don’t pay a jaywalking ticket?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    So the jaywalking ticket is $62 and the people who seem to be targeted by this enforcement a great deal are in the poorest zip codes – they were six times more likely to receive a ticket in those communities than anywhere else. And so if you get one of these tickets and for for some reason neglect to pay it or you think it’s not a big deal and don’t go to court, it can lead to your license being suspended. Yes! Walking around the community and getting a jaywalked ticket can lead to your driver’s license being suspended. You can get points on your license if you have a commercial driver’s license that can impact that. And once your driver’s license is suspended and you don’t know that, you could get stopped and then ticketed or arrested for driving without driving without a license.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What about the sidewalk infrastructure in this town or at least in these areas? Are they maintained? Do they exist?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    So leaders in Jacksonville have recognized this is a problem. They sought out some help and hired a consultant to come in and do about eight years worth of study on the city. The consultant realized that the infrastructure is not great. Also they need to prioritize infrastructure over enforcement. The conclusion was that no amount of enforcement or education is going to improve the situation. You have to deal with engineering firms.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So that’s the recommendation – engineer this better and not just ticket people?

  • TOPHER SANDERS:

    Correct.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Topher Sanders of ProPublica. This was a joint investigation with the Florida Times-Union. Thank you so much for coming in.

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