Editorial Staff

Racism and Anti-Poor Tactics All Rolled Into One: Blacks in College Community Receive Excessive Tickets for Jaywalking

Urbana and Champaign are two different municipalities located south of Chicago in Central Illinois. However, as the two municipalities are adjoined and surround the University of Illinois, they are each individually and jointly commonly referred to simply as Urbana-Champaign. As both my brother and one of my best friends graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I’ve visited the area on a college tour, and I currently live within an hour or two drive of the university campus, I’m familiar with the metro area where the two municipalities are located. Yes, it’s a college town with plenty to-do for college kids, but there are poorer rural areas nearby where people live.

As part of an ongoing project about demographic changes in Central Illinois, the organization ViveloHoy, in conjunction with Citizen Access, has been examining the relationship between black communities in Urbana-Champaign. Using a Freedom of Information Act request to gather statistics on 5 years of arrest data for people in that community, the organization unearthed some dispiriting data concerning disparities in arrest rates. In 2010, black people were 16 percent of the Urbana-Champaign population but represented at least 40 percent of arrest charges.

There were some fields of criminal arrest activity in which blacks were represented at even higher proportions–namely “jaywalking,” defined as walking across a street outside of a marked cross-walk and not at a corner, and/or against a signal light. In Champaign, from 2007 to 2011, 88 percent of all arrests for jaywalking were for black people. During the same time period, arrests for the same crime were even higher in Urbana. Arrests were concentrated among people under the age of 30.

To research the disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites, a block representing a lopsided number of arrests was chosen for a visit. The block in Champaign had 82 jaywalking arrests of black people from 2007 to 2011, the highest total in the city, and more than the total number of white people arrested (72) in the entire city combined. Just like many of the other streets in the neighborhood, the block had no sidewalk for people to walk on. In other words, black people were being arrested for jaywalking in a location where no sidewalk existed for them to walk on.

ViveloHoy contacted the Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb by phone and by email to hear his thoughts about what the project has thus far uncovered, in particular, and the relationship between the police and the black community in his jurisdiction, in general. The Chief was willing to speak with the researchers, and he did so. A follow-up email has yet to be returned where the organization asked additional questions.

Creating a cost-efficient and easy to access system of transportation in rural areas presents specific difficulties. Rural areas have few–if any–sidewalks and thus people often have to walk in the road if they do not have access to a car. Low population density in rural areas make car ownership more necessary and likely while making the provision of a public transportation system more expensive. Certain rural groups (i.e., the young, old or poor) always require public transportation.

Urbana-Champaign is a local with high numbers of young people there to attend college and poor people in the surrounding area. The police could be more responsive and understanding to the needs of the community they serve by not arresting so many people for the crime of walking where there is no place else to walk.

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