Several local laws criminalize the simple acts of walking and biking, creating the potential for excessive stops and over-policing of people as they move through our streets and public spaces – especially Black and Brown people.
Why is this a problem?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Black and Hispanic people experience more threats or use of force from police. Vague laws, especially traffic laws, open the door to this circumstance. One example of a vague law on the books in KCMO allows police to stop someone with dirty bicycle tires. This type of infraction has no safety connection, but provides an arbitrary reason to stop someone on the street.
What does it mean to “decriminalize walking and biking?”
Decriminalizing means removing or changing laws that allow for over-policing. Changes can include reducing or removing penalties, moving enforcement from police to other authorities, or completely repealing laws.
What examples of these problematic laws exist in Kansas City?
City Hall is currently in the process of reviewing all laws and regulations that could cause or contribute to over-policing. As part of the effort, BikeWalkKC reviewed the laws related to walking and biking and found three places to start. These changes are part of our 2021 Policy Agenda. They include:
What makes these measures problematic?
There are two key reasons why laws like these are problematic, especially for Black and Brown people:
First, the vague language enables racial profiling and makes it easier for police to use the law to stop someone, which can increase the chance of a deadly interaction.
Second, there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that these laws actually make streets safer for anyone, making them even more pointless as we work on other safety efforts like Vision Zero.
What does this look like in other communities?
- Jacksonville – In Jacksonville, Florida, a ProPublica analysis found that Black pedestrians received a disproportionate amount of traffic tickets.
- Minneapolis – A Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition study found police were more likely to assign negative perceptions to people of color in their reports.
- New York City – In New York City, a staggering 89% of criminal summonses for jaywalking went to Black and Hispanic pedestrians.
What does the data say about Kansas City?
As far as we can tell, KCPD does not share data about how often these laws are used, or about the demographics of those stopped by these laws. This is troubling, because if we don’t know how frequently these rules are being applied, it’s hard to justify keeping them on the books. This is yet one more reason why local control of the police department could better align law enforcement with community values and priorities.
What can I do about this?
BikeWalkKC is advocating for the City Council to change or remove these laws from the books, but we need your help! Mayor Lucas is introducing legislation to decriminalize walking and biking, and you can support this effort as it goes through the City Council process.
KCMO residents can email the mayor and your City Councilmembers to express your support and submit testimony at a City Council committee hearing coming soon. Join our Advocacy Mailing List to receive more information as it becomes available.
If you have been the victim of “walking while Black” or other forms of over-policing of walking and biking, please share your story with us so we can continue to document the extent of the problem.
Organizations, businesses, and community groups can sign a letter of support endorsing this initiative.
Everyone can help spread the word by sharing this document with your friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc.
If you have questions, send an email to email@example.com.