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by Peter Moskos

April 18, 2014

On jaywalking and giving tickets and 84-year-old men: "If the ends of justice are not met..."

In a comment Kyle W was kind enough to get me going about the situation in which a Manhattan resident Kang Chun Wong suffered injuries after an officer attempted to give him a jaywalking ticket and Mr. Wong seems to have tried to walk away. Mr. Wong is 84.

I wasn't there, so it's hard for me to talk about this specific incident. But I have plenty to say in general about jaywalking and ticketing old men...

First of all, it is never the fault of an 84-year-old man for getting hurt at the hands of police for something non-criminal and non-violent. Why? Because he's 84.

Yes... I'm saying different rules apply to people who are 84. (Or in a wheelchair. Or mentally ill. Or pregnant to name just a few). This is common sense. This is why officers have discretion. And this is why their bosses should chew them a new one when they abuse such discretionary potential with such absolute stupidity.

So you've got an 84-year-old man jaywalking in NYC. How about not giving him a ticket at all? This might not be understand by non-New Yorkers, but jaywalking is OK in NYC. You do it in front of cops. Cops do it. Everybody does it. With rare exceptions, you will not get a ticket for jaywalking in NYC. Nor should you. Such is the culture of our city. And it's good.

Last year there were 531 jaywalking tickets issued. For the whole city. For the whole year. That's 531 citations out of exactly 8.4 gazillion incidents of jaywalking (By comparison there were roughly 23,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests.) This year jaywalking tickets were up to 10 a day. So *if* you want to to be one of those 10 lacking-in-common-sense not-living-in-NYC officers who choose to write a jaywalking ticket, don't friggin' pick an 84-year-old man to write up! I guarantee you there were at least dozen other jaywalkers during that light cycle alone.

[Jaywalking may even be good, collectively, for pedestrian safety here. It keeps cars from going too fast because pedestrians walk like the own city, because they do. Individually it can be good for safety to jaywalk when there are no cars coming. If you wait for the walk sign, then cars also get the green light who can and do turn into you. If the choice is between crossing with no cars and waiting for the light and putting myself at great risk, you should always cross when it's safest. But that's for another day...]

If your bosses tell you to write jaywalking tickets, you could as an adult and professional, and as police did when Giuliani "cracked down" on jaywalking in 1998, simply refuse to do so (unless somebody jaywalks while flipping the bird or something). Or, as one real po-lice put it back then: "The only incentive they have to make me is fear, and that ain't gonna work because writing these is up to our discretion.... This is just taking hard-earned money from people who can't afford it, and I'm not going to prostitute myself for the Mayor or anybody else."

But let's say you do choose, for whatever reason, to write a ticket to an old man. Then you, as a young officer, need to remember you're dealing with an old man. He can be restrained, if absolutely necessary. He should not be pushed to the ground. Why? Because he's 84!

Clearly this was bad policing. I just can't be certain if it happened early in the situation (deciding to ticket an old man), in the middle of the situation, at the end, when things got physical, or all of the above.

At some point, if push came to shove, because he's 84, let him go. Why? Because he's 84 and we're talking about the non-offense of jaywalking. Unlike letting some young thug walk away, this old man is not and will not be a permanent threat to your authority. Don't get into a pissing battle with an old man. Why? Because you can't win.

Once, year ago, I almost got into a fight with an old man in Amsterdam. He was dumping wheelbarrows of trash into a canal after Queens Day. I asked him to stop dumping trash into the canal. He told me to fuck off. I informed him he didn't need to dump trash as the was going to clean it all up anyway. He continued to tell me to fuck off. I tried to prevent him from dumping trash in the canal. Words were exchanged. I was in the right. He was ready to fight....

So I walked away. Why? Because I couldn't win. I was like 26. He was like 84. What if, by some happenstance, mano-a-mano, he beat me down. Then I lose. I got beat up by an 84-year-old. What if, on the other hand, I ducked his first punch and then put him down with a strong right. Then I still lose. I beat up an 84-year-old.

Remember this truism when it comes to fighting an 84-year-old men: you cannot win. If he wins; you lose. If you win, you *still* lose. And a smart cop would never put himself into a situation he couldn't win.


Jay Livingston said...

A couple of weeks after this, a 69-year old pedestrian was hit and seriously injured at 77th and Broadway.The automobile was a cop car. My guess is that the guy was jaywalking and that the cop was driving too fast. (Is is possible he wasn't jaywalking? Do NYPD cars drive through red lights at speeds fast enough to crack the windshield when they hit a pedestrian?)

PCM said...

Windshields can crack at a very low speed. If the car was speeding, the pedestrian would probably be dead.

The thing that always affected me seeing hit pedestrians was the shoes -- no matter how tightly they were tied -- knocked off feet and found 40 feet away. It's hard to imagine the force that knocks your shoes off.

Kyle W said...

Thanks for typing all that up.

I get what you're saying, but I find it hard to accept. Forgetting that all... well most... maybe some?... laws are intended to protect people, why should they be allowed to be broken? If we have laws on the books that aren't going to be enforced, we should take them off. Of course, the existing behavior basically means that the police are both the executive branch and the judicial branch (and sometimes legislative branch if they arrest you for disorderly conduct for doing something they don't like). But that's not really the subject of this post.

So forgetting all that, old people don't have to obey the law because they're old? I understand your point, but I don't see how it would work, as a society. The real solution (IMO) would be for us, as a society, to stop saying that just because someone is old, that it's not their fault, even if they're doing something illegal.

PCM said...

Old people don't have to obey minor laws because they're old. Just as they can sometimes say inappropriate things at dinner or to strangers and get away with it.

I see this more as a matter of police discretion and keeping the severity of laws in perspective. All laws are not equal. This is minor. (though I do think jaywalking should be taken off the books, at least in New York -- or just regressed back to the pre-Guiliani $2 fine).

As to all laws not being equal, think of it this way: marijuana is illegal. Should the law against weed be enforced equally between a kid harassing strangers for money in a 7-11 parking lot as it would be with a dying cancer patient at home? I could give you tons of examples where we don't want minor law enforced equally because of variations on time, place, situation, occupation, or public holiday. To me, an old person jaywalking in NYC is one of them. Sometimes you just give people a break. And an 84-year-old should be given a lot of breaks.

I actually really like the phrasing in the NYPD memo: "Consider the totality of the circumstances and use discretion and common sense when issuing a summons to any person for a jaywalking offense. If pedestrian actions are not causing a safety risk or the ends of justice are not met by issuing a summons, warn and admonish the violator instead."

"The ends of justice are not met..." I like that!

Kyle W said...

Yeah, I like that phrase.

I think the only thing I take issue with is the age. If the interests of justice aren't met, then don't issue the citation. But if an old person is harassing people for weed money, it's no different than a young kid doing it. I also don't think they get away with saying inappropriate things. Or at least, I would view them the same way regardless of age.

I also think leaving the jaywalking on the books as a $2 offense would do more disservice than leaving it as is. Police would use it as a reason to stop someone who they just want to stop, but have no valid reason to. Similar to how SOME use disturbing the peace as previously stated.

But I'm also for getting rid of a lot of the laws.

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