Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, you're not even driving, so why would your driver's license be affected by a pedestrian ticket? But an investigation by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica discovered that thousands of people have had their licenses suspended for not being able to pay fines tied to pedestrian tickets.
And the violations involved are not just jaywalking -- the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was allegedly enforcing over two dozen obscure pedestrian statutes, more often than not against black citizens.
The numbers from the investigation, which looked at data from the last five years, are jarring:
2,004 pedestrian tickets were issued in Duval County, 55 percent to black citizens;
982 people lost their driver's licenses or their ability to obtain one due to unpaid fines, 54 percent of those were black; and
Black citizens only make up 29 percent of Duval County.
And those numbers don't include people who had their licenses suspended, then had them reinstated after eventually paying the fine.
Although city council members have asked the Sheriff Mike Williams to review the department's policies and requested that officers cease issuing pedestrian tickets. According to the ABA Journal, that seems unlikely:
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.
Additionally, Florida clerks of court could miss out on around $40 million a year if ordinances governing license suspensions are changed.
Not Behind the Wheel, but Behind the Eight Ball
That doesn't mean some lawmakers aren't trying to get them changed. State Senator Jeff Brandes, in particular, has repeatedly introduced measures that would prohibit driver's license suspensions for non-driving offenses. "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 told the ABA Journal. "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."