Cited for Being in Plain Sight: How California Polices Being Black, Brown, and Unhoused in Public

In the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as hundreds of thousands of protestors have joined demonstrations throughout the world, there is renewed attention on the day to day dysfunction of police. And, there is new energy and increased political will to eliminate harmful police functions. From inherently segregationist “Ugly Laws” to the Reconstruction era “Black Codes,” the development and enforcement of infraction laws has been and continues to be racist and classist. Police in California issued over 250,000 non-traffic infraction citations in 2019. Non-traffic infractions are only the most low-level violations in both the state and local municipal codes, punishable by a fine. They do not include harms to people or property, but instead criminalize everyday behaviors such as standing, sleeping, owning a dog, and crossing the street.1 Data from this report show deep racial disparities in enforcement: these are not citations police commonly give in white, wealthy neighborhoods. Though the citations are criminal, there is no right to an attorney, and therefore little recourse for people who are targeted for enforcement because of their race. 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 and Latinx communities, people experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities can cause trauma, and enforcement of minor infractions has led to police violence.

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