RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Jaywalking has been a crime in Virginia for a century, but as of March 1, it will be a lot harder to be charged for it.
Governor Ralph Northam signed it into law in October, House Bill 5058, which says in part that law-enforcement officers are prohibited from stopping pedestrians for jaywalking or entering a highway where the pedestrian cannot be seen.
“This is a very long, overdue recognition of the fact that these laws in every state, including Virginia, were huge in problematic in Virginia,” said Peter Norton.
Norton is an associate professor of history in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia and an expert on the history of jaywalking, including the origins of the term and why it was made illegal over a century ago.
He says the origins of the crime begin nearly a century ago and has since become stained with racism.
“That was an incentive on police officers to stop people who they consider suspicious. We know that in this society that white people have suspected Black people and people of color of being criminals,” Norton said. “In New York, there was a study too that found that 90 percent of tickets for illegal or unsafe crossing went to Blacks and Hispanics, even though they only make up 55 percent of the population.”
Jaywalking is now a secondary offense, which means you can only be charged if police stop you for something else first.
“As long as jaywalking was a primary offense, it was going to be a big source of harassment,” Norton said.
Norton says he’s optimistic this move will change that, but Dana Schrad with the Association of Chiefs of Police says the move is just making it harder for police to enforce the laws on the books.
“We don’t actually train our law enforcement officers in Virginia to use jaywalking as a way to get to another charge,” Schrad said. “What that means is, if you see someone jaywalking and you can’t charge them with anything else, you really can’t even stop them for that so it becomes a real problem in terms of trying to keep people safe.”
Schrad says drivers and pedestrians need to take more responsibility for their safety but adds the General Assembly should reconsider laws that are harder to enforce.
“It does not make any sense to have those laws there if you cannot charge for a primary offense of those statues,” Schrad said.
Being charged with jaywalking in Virginia is a crime that could land you with a $100 fine, but now it’ll be a lot harder to get charged. For more details on the new law click, HERE.
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