For those interested in the intersection of public policy and civil liberties, such as they are, the Florida Times-Union/ProPublica “Walking While Black” investigation and follow-ups were a revelation.
The article confirmed what many already knew: African-Americans are, compared to their size of the population, disproportionately ticketed for jaywalking and related pedestrian violations.
Fifty-five percent of the tickets; 29 percent of the population.
As well, “stopping people for pedestrian violations as a means for establishing probable cause to search them was also fully justified” per the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
These pretextual searches arguably are linked to a system of justice that walked arm-in-arm with Jim Crow through Consolidation and the integration of schools in the 1970s, and arm-in-arm again with “tough on crime” measures from then on.
An illegal street crossing, whether real or perceived, is a gateway to other interactions between police and citizens.
And — as anyone who has covered the Sheriff’s portion of budget hearings the last three years can attest — JSO would like a new jail … in part, because facilities need to be expanded and rehabbed (a consequence of a robust jail population).
The story picked up momentum — almost to the point where members of the Jacksonville City Council (historically a body with as much interest in civil liberties as it has in erotic cuneiform) — discussed potentially taking action. Or at least reacting to a documented enforcement tendency that spoke to a more extensive dysfunction in race relations.
Council President Anna Brosche, last week, said she supported a “pause” in these tickets. Others on a Council often at odds with its President backed the play.
Of course, that didn’t last. By the end of the week, Brosche walked back the call after a private conversation with Sheriff Mike Williams, saying that “it’s important that we are enforcing our laws correctly.”
Of course, this raises a lot of questions — questions that may be especially germane on the officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The commemoration of King typically stops, for establishment politicians, around the time of the March on Washington. The last five years of his life, in which his critiques of racism incorporated class elements, keening toward an evermore trenchant critique of the American system, are mysteriously excised from the narrative.
Are the laws correct in themselves? Is the act of jaywalking a ticket toward the carceral state? Should it be?
The idea of good faith between the state apparatus and African-Americans — specifically, men and women under 40 — is at least a questionable one. State statutes are written and voted on by politicians who happily take checks from private-prison purveyors such as the Geo Group, while attempting to get endorsements from police unions by any means necessary.
That’s a broader discussion that likely won’t be had beyond the few dozen who will read this blog post, as JSO found a way to derail it, via a point by point refutation of the “inaccurate” T-U/ProPublica article. From there, the T-U issued the “we stand by our accurate and important reporting” response that, while unavoidable, effectively kneecapped any potential linkage of this enforcement tendency to a larger discussion of the very institutionalized racism that Dr. King, Malcolm X, and others that have been forgotten necessarily reacted to.
The JSO response, and Brosche’s walk back on the issue (the biggest since her abandonment of Confederate monument removal months earlier), allowed advocates for the police to have their say.
Duval GOP officer Alexander Pantinakis: “The TU misled the Council President about the SAO “bulletin” — which led to her initial statement. Thank you
@jsosheriff for setting the record straight today … Let’s review … (1) The TU / ProPublica misled the Council President and other members, (2) USED their reactions to pump a storyline, (3) got caught, and (4) now write about how hard they tried. #BushLeague.“
Even Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff, Brian Hughes, chimed in: “We can do away with prosecutors & judges since TU news staff can so succinctly decide which citations are correct.”
The discussion moved — inexorably — from the enforcement tendencies of JSO to the credibility of newspaper reporting. Don’t expect the T-U editorial page to have its newsroom’s back, pushing this issue in any meaningful way. Editorial and news serve discrete functions at the local paper.
For proof of that last sentence, consider local developer Peter Rummell and his latest frustrations with the City Council slow-walking the District deal through the body.
Rummell’s development will require millions of dollars of city money to get off the ground; Brosche, responding to concerns of Councilmembers who thought things were moving too fast, authorized a select committee to examine the deal.
Helming that committee: Republican Matt Schellenberg, who has said many times that the deal wouldn’t have been approved in the first place if the proposed change of terms was known at the time.
On the committee: Democratic Councilman Garrett Dennis, the council’s leading skeptic on proposals made by the Curry administration.
Rummell’s not thrilled, per an email to civic leaders
The special committee: “one of the most outrageous political moves I have ever seen in Jacksonville … this ploy by Anna Brosche and Matt Schellenberg has to be politically motivated — she hates Lenny among other things — and we are caught in the crossfire.”
“I need your help however you think you can help to make Brosche see the light,” Rummell wrote to other city stakeholders. “We are happy to answer real questions and defend and explain what we have proposed — but I am not going to be defeated — or let this city be defeated — by this kind of small-minded, narrow thinking.”
The T-U news side has covered the deal, including the evolution in terms. However, the editorial write-up was Rummell’s preferred share.
This could have been predicted.
Earlier this month, this reporter was on a media panel with Times-Union editorialist Mike Clark, and during a discussion of the District deal, Clark assured those on hand that a T-U editorial was going to explain the deal. This didn’t mollify Matt Schellenberg; the highlight of the panel was a spirited back and forth between the Councilman and Clark.
This set up a spirited discussion in Tuesday’s Jacksonville City Council agenda meeting, in which Council members wanted to put on the brakes, which in turn set up the special committee.
The Times-Union news side predicates itself on “accountability journalism.” The editorial side takes the longer view, one that aligns with the priorities of city stakeholders. In that, there is a tension.
Sometimes — as when Alvin Brown was mayor — editorial and news are allies. Other times, they seem at cross-purposes.
It will be worth watching to see how the paper resolves what could be seen as an internal contradiction, as city stakeholders ramp up an ambitious slate of projects — all with expectations, some of them unspoken, on the public — in the year ahead.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of what could be seen as slow bleeding of the product.
GateHouse Media — the new ownership of the paper — will no longer have a dedicated Tallahassee reporter from this region.
And regarding opinion columnists, the iconic Ron Littlepage has retired — and been replaced by no one … which will give this writer, an opinion columnist of some tenure, some new people/entities to lose to in various “best columnists” contests later this year.
Printing operations will be done elsewhere in a matter of weeks, further decreasing the paper’s local footprint.
The one upshot: the paper’s news operations will be moved to Downtown Jacksonville, saving reporters that long walk or drive from the Brooklyn neighborhood.