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NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Jacksonville Over Pedestrian Ticket Enforcement

Reporting by The Florida Times-Union and ProPublica prompts the Legal Defense Fund to start on-the-ground interviews.

This story was co-published with The Florida Times-Union.

Representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund arrived in Jacksonville earlier this week to conduct interviews concerning the sheriff’s office’s enforcement of pedestrian tickets.

The trip was prompted by reporting by The Florida Times-Union and ProPublica that uncovered racially disproportionate and often erroneous pedestrian citation enforcement. Some 55 percent of the tickets issued over a five-year period went to blacks in a city where they make up 29 percent of the population. The citations can impose financial hardships and, in some cases, lead to people losing their driver’s licenses.

Raymond Audain, senior counsel with the defense fund, said the trip does not mean the organization has committed to mounting a legal challenge.

“We’re interested because we found your report compelling,” Audain told Times-Union and ProPublica reporters Friday. “We’re concerned about the disparities you reported and we feel we should look more closely.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is a separate entity from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The reporting by the Times-Union and ProPublica showed that black residents were disproportionately ticketed despite the fact that fatal pedestrian crashes — the ostensible public safety aim of the ticket writing — were evenly distributed in white and black neighborhoods. In addition, the reporting showed that hundreds of the tickets issued for a particular statute dealing with crosswalks were given in error.

Nearly half of the 2,000 people who received pedestrian tickets in Duval County, Florida, 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 analysis determined 132 driver’s licenses were suspended as a result of tickets given in error.

Ben Frazier, a community activist with the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, met with the Legal Defense Fund on Thursday.

“They wanted to find out from the community how we felt about this whole thing about walking while black,” Frazier said. “They explained to me that they were going to initiate what would be a long-term investigation to review our claims and to determine whether the grounds were there for a lawsuit.”

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Topher Sanders is a reporter at ProPublica covering race, inequality and the justice system.

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