The Florida Society of News Editors honored “Walking While Black,” a collaboration between ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union, with three first-place awards in its annual journalism contest. The series was recognized in the categories of public service, community leadership and beat reporting.
Led by ProPublica reporter Topher Sanders and the Florida Times-Union’s Ben Conarck, the series showed that police use pedestrian tickets in a racially disproportionate way in Jacksonville, Florida.
The story was conceived after a viral video last summer showed a young African-American man in Jacksonville being ticketed and threatened with arrest for jaywalking, as well as failing to carry an ID card. Seeing potential for a larger story, the two newsrooms teamed up for a project that confirmed a systemic problem.
Pedestrians can be ticketed for 28 different infractions in Jacksonville, including failing to cross a street at a right angle and not walking on the left side of a road when there are no sidewalks. Sanders and Conarck found that black residents were overrepresented in every category, receiving 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville while accounting for only 29 percent of the population.
The investigation prompted the sheriff to seek guidance from the local state attorney on whether his officers were properly interpreting the statutes, and he ordered officers to cease writing erroneous tickets for pedestrians who did not have ID on them. The sheriff’s office also initiated bias training for officers who work in Jacksonville’s predominantly black communities, and state transit experts said the articles armed them with additional evidence for rewriting Florida’s pedestrian statutes.
Learn more about the Florida Society of News Editors contest here.