New Report Reveals Thousands of Infractions Enforced Against Black, Latinx and Unhoused Californians for Sitting, Sleeping, and Standing

For Immediate Release

September 30, 2020 

Media Contact

Sam Lew, 415-272-8022, slew@lccrsf.org 

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

***PRESS RELEASE*** 

New Report Reveals Thousands of Infractions Enforced Against Black, Latinx and Unhoused Californians for Sitting, Sleeping, and Standing 

Multi-year data reveals how California polices being Black, Brown and unhoused in public

CALIFORNIA — A new report released this morning from the Lawyers’ Committee of Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area reveal thousands of non-traffic infractions are disproportionately enforced on Black, Latinx and unhoused Californians each year, primarily for behavior that amounts to simply existing in public: sitting, sleeping, and loitering (standing).

Police in California issued over 250,000 non-traffic infraction citations in fiscal year 2017-18. Data from this report show deep racial disparities in the enforcement, including: 

  • Black adults in California are up to 9.7 times more likely to receive a citation for local infractions than white adults.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department gave  63% of all citations for “Loitering-Standing” to Black adults.
  • Black adults in San Diego were 4 times more likely to receive non-traffic infractions than white adults.
  • The most common non-traffic infraction citation given by the Long Beach Police Department was for jaywalking (“Walking on Roadway”). Only 11% of adults in Long Beach are Black, but police gave Black adults 36% of all non-traffic infractions issued. 
  • In Hayward, the second-most cited non-traffic infraction between 2017 and 2019 was possession of a small amount of marijuana, and every single person cited for the offense was a person of color.

The result is hundreds of dollars in fines and fees people cannot afford to pay, and, in some counties, warrants and arrests for people who do not either pay or appear in court. This ongoing form of police harassment of Black, Latinx, homeless and disabled people is the cause of ongoing trauma, and enforcement of infractions like curfew violations has led to significant police violence.

These citations are, in many instances, absurd: criminally punishing a person for sleeping will not stop the human need to sleep. Fining someone hundreds of dollars for not having a dog license will not make them able to pay for a dog license.

“We spend millions of dollars discriminatorily enforcing these non-traffic infraction laws against Black and Latinx people. The fines and fees are largely uncollectable, but the debt burden, warrants, and arrests cause significant harm. ” said Elisa Della-Piana, Legal Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “We can do better: Recently, state laws were passed that prohibit the enforcement of non-traffic infractions for possession of marijuana and street vending without a permit. These infractions were deemed unnecessary and harmful, particularly to communities of color. We can and must stop enforcement for the remaining non-traffic infractions.” 

“Black, Latinx, homeless and disabled Californians are constantly targeted, surveilled and fined hundreds of dollars by police everyday behaviors like sleeping, owning a dog, or simply existing in public. For some, failure to pay or appear in court may even lead to an arrest. For others, these encounters with police can be dangerous and, in some cases, deadly,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “As millions of Americans call to defund and abolish police, ending non-traffic infractions is a manageable essential first step.” 

As data for non-traffic infractions are not uniformly collected across the state, 82 California Public Records Act (PRA) requests were sent to County Courts, Police Departments, and Sheriff’s Departments, along with documents from the Judicial Council and the California Department of Justice in the following counties: 

  • San Diego County 
  • Los Angeles County 
  • San Francisco County 
  • Alameda County 
  • Sacramento County 
  • Santa Clara County 
  • Kern County 
  • San Bernardino County 
  • Stanislaus County 

View the report here.

View an interactive map of infraction hot spots here.

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