In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of police, the protests that followed have forced a reckoning on the issue of overpolicing in Black communities. Ahmaud Arbery’s death in particular reinforced the truth that in public spaces, Black people often face greater risks than their white counterparts.
In response to the protests, including local outcry over the deaths of Ryan Stokes, Cameron Lamb, and Brianna Hill, BikeWalkKC seeks to support efforts to protect our most vulnerable neighbors in our streets. Based on what research already tells us about the phenomenon of “walking while black”, we wanted to bring attention to existing local statutes that may enable such overpolicing here in KCMO. In a letter to Mayor Quinton Lucas, we highlighted three laws to start with:
- Jaywalking. Jaywalking as a law has roots in Kansas City. Unfortunately, the enforcement of laws like this has fed into community perceptions of overpolicing, including in places like Ferguson. At a time when multimodal advocacy organizations and municipalities across the country are moving away from an emphasis on enforcement, Kansas City should do the same with its statutes (70-783).
- Dirty wheels or tires. Police are allowed to stop anyone on a bike and cite them if their wheels and tires aren’t clean. There is no compelling safety reason for this, and it can easily be abused to target or profile people based on how they look (70-268).
- Police inspecting bicycles. This gives police officers a very wide berth for stopping and potentially harassing someone on a bike. Unless every police officer within the KCPD is trained on how to properly maintain a bicycle, this measure presents a glaring opportunity for misuse (70-706).
There are a couple of important caveats with this list: first, it is not exhaustive. We believe there are additional local laws that warrant a closer look; however, we want to start with the ones most likely to cause harm to vulnerable individuals who walk, roll, or bike. Second, there isn’t much data to show how often laws are being enforced disproportionately. We hope the City will address this shortcoming through its implementation of the recently passed Vision Zero resolution.
Modifying or repealing these laws are not the only steps we can take to create a safer environment for our most vulnerable neighbors. Yet they must be part of the broader push we make as a community to ensure that everyone is able to move through this city safely and free of harassment.