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In Florida, You Can Lose Your Driver’s License For Jaywalking–Especially If You’re Black

| December 14, 2017

jaywalking jacksonville discrimination

In Jacksonville, it could cost you your license. (Tobi Gaulke)

More than half the 2,000 people who received pedestrian tickets in Duval County from 2012 to 2016 saw their driver’s licenses suspended or their ability to obtain one limited, according to an analysis by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica.


The tickets, which carry what can seem like a modest $65 fine, can have more significant consequences for those who get them and refuse to pay or are unable to do so.

Over five years, a total of 2,004 pedestrian tickets were issued in Duval County, which is comprised almost entirely by the city of Jacksonville. Of those tickets, 982 people who failed or were unable to pay the fine lost their driver’s licenses or their ability to obtain one, according to the analysis.

The license suspensions help answer a question at the center of a Times-Union/ProPublica investigation of pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville: What are the consequences for individuals swept up in the Jacksonville Sheriff Office’s aggressive enforcement of some two dozen often obscure pedestrian statutes?

Last month, the Times-Union/ProPublica investigation showed that 55 percent of the tickets given in recent years went to blacks despite the fact that they make up only 29 percent of the city’s population. Blacks were similarly overrepresented in the 932 tickets that led to license suspensions — 54 percent.

As of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, three elected officials on the body have called on Sheriff Mike Williams to order his officers to stop writing pedestrian tickets. Council member Garrett Dennis asked the Office of General Counsel to review what authority the council had to compel him to do so. In addition to voicing her support for that measure, council member Katrina Brown asked for a noticed meeting focused on pedestrian infrastructure and enforcement.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has insisted that blacks have not been targeted in the issuance of pedestrian tickets, and said it saw no reason to review the investigation’s findings of a disproportionate impact on African Americans. The office said those receiving tickets could contest them before a judge, and that it would address any erroneous or improper ticketing with additional training of officers.

Losing one’s license in a sprawling city like Jacksonville can make aspects of daily life seem near impossible, whether you’re a mother shuttling children to school or a trucker trying to secure your next job.

Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from Pinellas County who sits on the legislature’s criminal justice committee, has repeatedly introduced measures that would prohibit driver’s license suspensions for non-driving offenses.

In an interview Monday, Brandes said that a driver’s license suspension is often a Floridian’s first experience with the criminal justice system. Then, he added, it can “snowball” from there.

“You don’t pay the fine, or you can’t pay the fine, but you still have got to get to work — then you’re facing a Catch-22,” Brandes said. “Do I drive and not make it to work and get fired, or do I not drive and get fired? We just think that, unless it’s a driving-relating incident, you shouldn’t have to make that choice.”

The state senator’s bill, which he plans to submit for the third time, would allow for those who demonstrate financial hardship to perform community service if they are unable to pay civil fines. He said the bill has never made it to a full vote by the legislature. Clerks of court in Florida stand to lose about $40 million annually if the law governing driver’s license suspensions is modified.

“Unfortunately, the clerks of courts have been funded based on transaction volume, and one of their highest-margin transactions is driver’s licenses,” Brandes said.

The Times-Union and ProPublica identified the 932 suspensions by using data from the Duval County Clerk of Courts and the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers.

The tally is surely conservative. For instance, it does not include people who had their licenses suspended, but then reinstated after eventually paying the fine.

“Who would have thought that someone who gets a walking infraction is going to be barred from getting a driver’s license?” said Samuel Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Economic Justice Program. “I think it shows the absurdity of linking the ability to drive to the ability to fulfill a financial obligation in the criminal justice system.”

The Times-Union/ProPublica analysis also found that 68 juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 had their chance of getting a driver’s license suspended — meaning any application for a license would require the ticketed youngster to pay off the fine.

“The idea of suspending the ability of someone in the future from getting a license when at the time they are a juvenile, they are a child, and they are being punished for a child activity, a child behavior, in a way that is really severe,” said Brooke of the SPLC. “This isn’t go spend an hour in the principal’s office. This is you won’t be able to drive, you won’t be able to drive until you come up with a way to pay off this fine, and that’s just frankly unconscionable.”

State Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, said that she, too, would be looking into ways to change the laws governing pedestrian citations and driver’s license suspensions.

“This type of ticket that goes unpaid creates extreme negative situations for an African-American household already probably struggling,” Davis said.

Davis added that people might not grasp the seriousness of the ticket, which then gets left unpaid, and leads to the suspensions.

“It’s just extreme,” Davis said, “and it has extreme after-effects for people of color.”

What’s more, 132 of the tickets, issued for crossing outside of a crosswalk, led to license suspensions, but didn’t conform with state law and should never have been issued, according to the analysis. The infraction applies only when people cross in between intersections with traffic lights, but was routinely cited without regard for traffic light placement.

The sheriff’s office has previously said it has asked the local state attorney to give it guidance on the proper application of the crosswalk statute.

— Topher Sanders, ProPublica, and Benjamin Conarck, Florida Times-Union

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22 Responses for “In Florida, You Can Lose Your Driver’s License For Jaywalking–Especially If You’re Black”

  1. Instigator says:

    Deadbeats. Cross in the crosswalk or pay your fine. You stick the middle finger up to everyone that PAID the fine.

  2. mark101 says:

    “You don’t pay the fine” well there is consequences you will receive. You ignore that, the crime gets larger. It has nothing to do with black or white, its who obeys the street makers and the proper areas to cross over. You either break the law and get caught or you obey it. Its that simple.

  3. I be Erudite says:

    “Last month, the Times-Union/ProPublica investigation showed that 55 percent of the tickets given in recent years went to blacks despite the fact that they make up only 29 percent of the city’s population. Blacks were similarly overrepresented in the 932 tickets that led to license suspensions — 54 percent.”

    Could it be that the racial percentages of pedestrians do not break down along the same lines as the racial distribution in Jacksonville? Could it be that enforcement of Jaywalking and other obscure laws are done in the hihest crime neighborhoods? People get pulled over while driving for having their license plate not properly secured. Obscure laws like that actually lead to arrests of serious criminals who had outstanding warrants, are in possession of large amounts of drugs, etc. Obscure laws don’t necessarily target someone because of their race. The person doing the enforcing might do so because of race but that is not every law enforcement officer. People in the article didnt lose their license for Jaywalking they get it suspended for failure to pay. Regardless of race if you have a penalty to pay you better pay it. If not, your next face to face with a police officer during a traffic stop is going to earn you a trip to jail. Economic hardship and inability to pay a small fine is not limited to African Americans. There are millions of people from all races in the same situation. This article just throws out a few statistics without examining if there are other factors influencing the findings. For example, many neighborhoods have very few pedestrians while lower income neighborhoods often have people walking around the neighborhood until late at night. How about studying a business intersection and determining the number of Jaywalkers over a given time span, then break down if there was equal enforcement based upon the racial distribution of the offenders. The economic impact of breaking the law based upon someone’s rCe is irrelevant. Selective enforcement proven to be racially motivated and without other quantifiable explanations would be a very big problem.

  4. Pogo says:

    @Jim Crow was – and is – an expert vote suppressor

    Senators push for criminal justice reform

    By Gray Rohrer

    “…The bill is one of several championed by both Republican and Democratic senators in recent years. Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, has offered bills to increase the threshold for a felony theft charge from $300 to $1,500; to change sentencing guidelines to allow for lighter sentences; and to reduce a third driving-on-a-suspended-license charge from a felony to a misdemeanor…”

    Full article
    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-criminal-justice-reform-stalled-20171206-story.html

    Too bad (cough, gag) there’s so few resources available to prosecute tax evasion and white collar crime – especially considering the ROI…

    Rick Scott’s role in Columbia/HCA scandal
    http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2010/06/rick-scotts-role-in-columbiahca-scandal.html

  5. I be Erudite says:

    @Pogo, I hope you are smart enough to know that Jim Crow is a phrase and does not actually refer to a real person named Jim Crow. What relevence does a link to Rick Scott’s role in Colombia/HCA scandal or reference to white collar crimes have to do with the subject matter of the article? This is just a typical deflectin tactic used by someone when their argument is weak. ALL laws should be enforced and they should be enforced equally because Justice is supposed to be the “Blind Lady” holding a set of scales. Don’t like the laws? Work on changing the laws as was mentioned in the article. That is a reasonable response. Yes, there is racism in America. Yes, sometimes police officers target people based on race or some other factors. Yes, it is wrong and when proven should be strictly dealt with. What I am saying is tha article does not prove race is the reason for a disproportionate percentage of blacks receiving Jaywalking tickets in Jacksonville. There are many factors some of which were originally mentioned that must be excluded before any logical person could reason that racism is the only reason. The article doesnt even mentin or examine the race of the law enforcement official who wrote the ticket. The City of Baltimore was badly damaged due to riots after the death of Freddie Gray. Rioters insisted that racist police officers murdered a black man. Three of the six officers accused including the driver of the po,ice transport were black. If we have no trust in law enforcement and no trust in judicial outcomes we have nothing left but anarchy and it is a sad day for America.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Voter suppression as if no driver license makes pretty difficult to vote. First time I hear of this abuse tainted even further with racial profiling.

  7. woodchuck says:

    So if you get pulled over in Harlem and your black that’s racial profiling?

  8. Sherry says:

    WOW! From these comments, those who choose to close their eyes to their own bigotry are often obviously hypocritical as well!

    Often the same people that complain that “those people” (you know, the ones who are not lily white) should “get a job”, have no problem with yet another form of SUPPRESSION! Having a driver’s license suspended for fines like “jay walking” is ridiculous! The government is creating a “revenue stream” on the backs of the poor, and then demanding payment for fines by taking away “legal” transportation to a job. . . sheer lunacy! The icing on the cake for Republicans is that it’s now almost impossible to vote without a valid driver’s license. It’s Ferguson all over again!

    If you think “jay walking” should be ticketed at $65.00. . . then I personally want to see each one of you make sure to proceed to an intersection or cross walk when I’m trying to drive home by the pier in Flagler Beach.

    Oh Yeah. . . that’s right (alt right). . . you won’t get a ticket because you are white. Even if you did, all you need to do is pull out the old credit card. Can you imagine what the uproar to the city commissioners, and comments here, would be like if they started ticketing for “jay walking” to the beach? Hey. . . it would be OK with me!

  9. Mark says:

    Yes, the cops only give black people tickets for jaywalking. Do a study and prove that there are more whites jaywalking and nobody gives them a ticket, please. Let’s see some real statistics. I don’t want to hear “compared to the population ratio”. Who cares about the population ratio. Give me some facts that show the cops are racists!

  10. Nancy N. says:

    Sherry and palmcoaster…while I agree that it is egregious and that people are losing their licenses over simple pedestrian offenses and that these offenses are often only enforced in a racially targeted manner…it is not true to say that a person can’t vote without a valid driver’s license. People who don’t have valid driver’s licenses (those whose licenses are suspended, the elderly or disabled, or those who just prefer not to drive) may get a state ID card that is just as valid for identity purposes like voting or writing a check as a driver’s license, but that doesn’t carry driver’s privileges. Unfortunately if your license is suspended due to having difficulty paying a $60 ticket, you probably can’t afford the ID card either, though.

  11. RickG says:

    This is an obvious attempt at limiting individuals from voting in Florida. Sure that jaywalking is dangerous and should be fined but to take away a drivers license is absurd. They were not driving or violating any moving violation law. Taking away a drivers license takes away their ability to make a living given the horrible public transportation in this state. Maybe they should just take away their rights to own firearms….

  12. Anonymous says:

    @Voter suppression for life – the cumulative effect of youthful inexperience, poverty, racial profiling and discrimination. Felony = never vote again in Florida.

    Senators push for criminal justice reform

    By Gray Rohrer

    “…and to reduce a third driving-on-a-suspended-license charge from a felony to a misdemeanor…”

    Full article
    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-criminal-justice-reform-stalled-20171206-story.html

    With Floriduh’s traditions of equal treatment of all – we need reform sooner than later:

    Matt Gaetz will drain the swamp?

    “…In 2008, Gaetz was arrested for a DUI as he was driving back from the Swamp, a nightclub on Okaloosa Island, Florida, in a 2001 BMW SUV registered to his father. While he was arrested and refused to take a breathalyzer test, “he didn’t have his license suspended for a year when he refused the breath test — as Florida law dictates. And he didn’t have that refusal used against him in a criminal proceeding.” At the time of his arrest and consequent criminal proceedings, his father was serving as a local politician. The attorneys agreed to drop the case, despite the fact that the police reported that “Gaetz fumbled for his license and registration, his eyes were watery and bloodshot, and he swayed and staggered when he got out of the car,” and Gaetz cited the dropped charges as proof that he was innocent…”

    Source
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Gaetz

  13. Anonymous says:

    Our representatives have passed laws that allow your driver’s license to be suspended for just about anything so what’s the big deal here? Contact your law makers and tell them to stop the nonsense. Driver’s license nothing to do with the issues that can suspend them and when the privilege of driving is taken away people are forced to still get to where they need to and will break the law often because they still have to work and get to where they need to so they can survive. All this scheme does is bring more cases into the court system, which is a great expense to tax payers, give people records, and result in more people driving without insurance and clogs the court systems with BS cases that prevents the serious cases from being promptly handled. Contact your local representatives and tell them to stop the BS game and leave people’s driver’s licenses alone. This is a scheme to collect reinstatement fees and rack up other costs and force people to break laws. Driver’s licenses should only be suspended for abuse of the driving privileges. Voter’s will vote if they want to. In Florida they can use ID cards or even a work ID or credit card. This has nothing to do voting. It is about the money!!!!! Being creative to collect fees.

  14. Sherry says:

    Ahhhh Nancy N. Thank you for thinking this through to the logical conclusion, and for demonstrating the obvious “voter suppression” by our overwhelmingly Republican government entities. Pulling one’s self “up by their boot straps” is impossible when they have no boots.

    Rick G. . . a brilliant suggestion about taking away the rights to own guns. I would only add that maybe we should begin with those on the “No Fly List”, those being treated for “Mental Illness”, those with “military criminal” records, those who buy guns on the “Internet”, those who buy guns at “Gun Shows”. Our government is so corrupt and twisted that It very well could be easier to disarm the jay walkers.

    To those who probably correctly assume that the police are targeting black neighborhoods for jay walking tickets. . . are you really so thick, narrow minded and blind that you do not understand “that IS BIGOTRY”!

    Using a broad brush to paint all people of color as criminals, leeches, lazy, unintelligent, violent, dangerous, uneducated, second class citizens IS RACIST! If you generally think of people of color in those terms, then you fit that definition!

  15. smarterthanmost says:

    “Our representatives have passed laws that allow your driver’s license to be suspended for just about anything so what’s the big deal here? Contact your law makers and tell them to stop the nonsense. Driver’s license nothing to do with the issues that can suspend them and when the privilege of driving is taken away people are forced to still get to where they need to and will break the law often because they still have to work and get to where they need to so they can survive.”

    Unless you have a better solution, it’s obvious that if you don’t pay fines, taking your driver’s license away, gets your attention. It’s not “sheer lunacy” or “alt right”, it’s just a way to get people to be responsible.

    And yes, Sherry, let’s ticket everyone jaywalking at the beach, just as soon as the city spends tons of money and installs crosswalks at every intersection, then someone is breaking the law. Apparently it’s currently not a crime to cross anywhere you chose. If it is, it then post it.

  16. Just me says:

    Amazing how some look to “RACISIM” for people NOT following the “LAWS”. If the police are stooping blacks and NOT whites for the same offence then YES that is a racial problem that must be stoped. BUT this piece shows nothing to prove that other then more black’s get this ticket then whites. MAYBE it has more to do with just who is NOT following the laws then what the skin color is of all invalid or not breaking the laws???

  17. Sherry says:

    @???????than most. . . there are convenient crosswalks and traffic signals in front of the pier in Flagler Beach. My point is that people often cross against the traffic light, which is most certainly illegal and unsafe. Yet I’ve never even heard of anyone being ticketed. Therefore, it begs the question . . . Is the law applied EQUALLY?

    Please, “thoroughly” read this article again.

    Let me make this as simple as possible so that “Just me” can comprehend as well: This article has documented the proven statistical “FACT” that 55% of the tickets for Jay Walking were issued to people of color, and that laws are NOT being enforced “EQUALLY”! Therefore the enforcement of those laws is being applied “UNEQUALLY”, and according to skin color. Just the sheer numbers prove ILLEGAL prejudice/bias/bigotry by law enforcement! The notion that ALL tickets must have been issued to people of color in order to prove bias/prejudice/bigotry is nothing short of idiotic, and is completely contrary to the 14th amendment of our constitution:

    The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying any person within its territory the “EQUAL” protection of the laws. … Thus, the equal protection clause is crucial to the protection of civil rights.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Smarterthanmost—not so fast—if it got people’s attention then they wouldn’t be arresting people for driving on suspended licenses. This is your sign that the efforts are for moneytairy gain and not a solution. People are going to drive and do what they have to do to get from point a to point b. The fact of the matte is when people are forced to break the law it puts all of us at risk for being financial liable because if they don’t have a valid driver’s license then they are driving uninsured and then when a mishap happens we have to pay our own. This is not smart. The people that obviously can’t or don’t pay have a problem paying child support. I have no problem with driver’s licenses being suspended for failure to pay traffic citations, but for no other reason. It is hard enough for people to afford housing and the necessities in life that they don’t need man created problems. I think some times law makers make laws that they can’t relate to-they need to think of the people it is going to affect like me and you. Until you live the life of a struggling person don’t assume they just don’t pay their bills. Bottom line is this is a bad law and doesn’t not much more than create another TAX.

  19. I be Erudite says:

    @Sherry,

    The article mentions nothing of Jaywalking in Flagler Beach. You have no statistics to show whether any tickets are or have been issued for Jaywalking in Flagler Beach. Yiu have no statistics that show a racial breakdown of Jaywalking tickets in Flagler Beach, therefore your example is entirely off point. This article discusses the City of Jacksonville. The real point is that it mentions a statistic that black people are ticketed for Jaywalking “In Jacksonville” at a higher percentage than the population of blacks “in Jacksonville”. It does not examine whether there are exculpatory factors or whether this is an anomoly. Anyone can find racism in America or anywhere else in the world if the choose to. They can also cherry pick statistics to support their argument. I watch your posts on here and see your obvious bias in virtually everything you write. I will give you credit for obviously being much more intelligent than most, but your posts almost always lead to allegations of racism, disdain for law enforcement, the military, or gun owners. A while back you even wrote that money spent on the military is wasted. You didn’t say that some money gets wasted but rather implied that the entire military is a waste. Never mind the Constitution specifically provides for the federal government to provide for the defense of this country. Back on point, if you were looking at the Jaywalking issue in Jacksonville as a social scientist, I would just ask you a couple of questions: Does the writer make a persuasive argument backed up with sufficient facts? What additional types of information could he have included that might have supported his theory? If you were not “all in” ready to accept everything that supports your notions as the truth, how might you challege the information presented? What are the writer’s facts and what are the writer’s assumptions? If you can answer these questions here or maybe even answer them just to yourself it might make you a bit more of a critical thinker.

  20. smarterthanmost says:

    @sourpuss, “there are convenient crosswalks and traffic signals in front of the pier in Flagler Beach. My point is that people often cross against the traffic light, which is most certainly illegal and unsafe. Yet I’ve never even heard of anyone being ticketed. Therefore, it begs the question . . . Is the law applied EQUALLY?”

    If NO ONE is being ticketed, then the law IS being applied equally.

  21. Just me says:

    @Sherry
    YES 55% of those tickets are given to blacks for J walking. That stat does NOT mean that blacks are targeted over any others. Perhaps those who get the tickets crossing the street against the laws are those who walk more and cross illegally more??? I dont think its a race thing

  22. Pipsqeak says:

    What about the one where if you own a car but you don’t have insurance on it and the insurance expires the State of Florida Florida will suspend your license and then you have to pay $150 to reinstate it. Talk about unfair!

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