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Jaywalking in the City of Portland

When is a crime not a crime? When you're dressed for success.
This morning, I finally had the opportunity to test a suspiscion I have had for some time. After the events of March the 25th, I suspected that Portland Police officers may be selectively enforcing laws in order to silence political dissent. Specifically, I watched on March 25th as people who were protesting the war against Iraq were intimidated, beaten, pepper sprayed and arrested by police. In the course of this treatment, I saw numerous people get arrested and hauled off to jail for the "crime" of jaywalking.

Arrested for jaywalking? When was the last time you ever saw anything like that? Even in the most draconian, Iron Curtain dictatorships, I haven't heard of people being beaten, gassed, and arrested for jaywalking. (Except of course, Israel, where Palestinians are shot for similar offenses.)

It seemed strange to me. Could it be that the police were abusing their authority? Could it be that they were using a seldom-enforced and universally ignored rule to crack down on dissenting voices? Here in America, no less? I know it sounds crazy, but what else was I to think? I mean, people jaywalk in downtown Portland every single day. I know, I've done it myself. Yet only during an anti-imperialist protest has anyone, to my knowledge, ever been arrested for it. Could it be that they've just never seen anyone jaywalking before? After all, differentially applying the law in an effort to punish only those with whom you disagree would be a flagrant violation of civil rights. They wouldn't do that, would they? How could I find out?

Then, this morning, there it was: The perfect oppportunity. I was walking through downtown on my way to work. I was disguised in the garb of a tax-paying, "normal person." Yes, that's a role I sometimes play. Anyway, so I approached 12th Avenue, preparing to cross. The signal screamed, "DON'T WALK," even though the street was virtually empty except for one car. Yes! It's a police cruiser! And it's approaching the cross walk.

I know it was crazy, but I worked up a state of confidence, stuck my nose in the air, and stepped right out in front of the cruiser and crossed the street. It was traveling slowly enough, and was just far enough away that I had time to step across the lane nearest me while it pulled up into the far lane and stopped to wait for me to cross. And I crossed! No one leapt out of the car, no one dragged me by my hair, no one stuck a pepper spray cannister in my face. No plastic handcuffs around my wrists, no intimidating words. They just sat there and politely allowed me to move across their bow, completely against the light.

Now I want to put a disclaimer out here right now: Don't try this at home. I was only able to pull this off because I was wearing a business suit. (Yes, it came from goodwill, but how were they to know that?)

The point is, I looked like one of "their" people. You know, the people the laws were written to protect. Not the people who believe that American Imperialism is wrong, but the people who benefit from American Imperialism. The "Haves." So the law against jaywalking was not applied to me this morning. It is apparently reserved only for those not wearing suits, or for those carrying signs expressing political dissent. In other words, the police state is using obscure laws to violate the civil rights of people who do not agree with the state.

The way I see it, we have three choices. We can ignore the implications of this little experiment, and take our chances the next time we feel inclined to express dissent. Alternatively, those of us who can afford to do so can go down to Goodwill and buy business clothes and pass for normal, thereby basking in unearned privilege as the police ignore our infractions and target our sisters and brothers who weren't able to procure the necessary attire. Or, we could fight this blatant violation of our civil rights. Which will you choose?

Good point, Jay 14.Jul.2003 12:31

Kroeker Step Down!

Yesterday I was a passenger in a car when my driver stopped for a pedestrian waiting at the median, waiting to cross the remainder of a marked crosswalk on West Burnside near the North Park Blocks. It was akward since the cars in the other lanes just blew by us. Then, hey what's that? A police cruiser rolling right through the crosswalk, only feet away from the pedestrian who was obviously trying to cross! Many Portland police officers constantly display their incompetance for all to see. They fail to observe pedestrian right of way, fail to use turn signals, etc.

If they don't know the traffic laws or lack the ability to follow them, they should patrol on foot- if they are allowed to keep their jobs at all. The city can not afford to keep funding nincompoops. At least a bit of exercise might keep them more alert, and a bit less flabby. Sell the squad cars and add more doughnut shops within walking distance.

It happened to me 14.Jul.2003 14:26


I got a ticket for jaywalking one evening after work down by Meier & Frank. It was about 5:05 PM, everybody rushing around to get to their bus, etc. The cop was standing there just waiting for somebody to jaywalk, and I got nailed. I didn't know cops still issued jaywalking tickets, but they do sometimes. I was really ticked off. Seemed so silly.

seems to be a trend... 14.Jul.2003 14:37


my sisters boyfriend got ticketed for jaywalking dowtown the other day. crazy. you'd think they'd be out catching rapists or something.

Been there been arrested for that !!!! 14.Jul.2003 18:22

Amy M. Anarchist pdxanarchistchick@yahoo.com

The police in downtown Portland are fucked up!!! I got thrown down, cuffed and maced all for jay walking!!!!!

old jay walking story 14.Jul.2003 21:24

andrea pdx

this is a jay walking story that is more than 25 years old and took place in Salem not in Portland....but the net effect is that years later, I still do not jay walk.....

It is June of 1973 and I am a new arrival in Salem, Oregon having taken the Greyhound bus up from San Francisco.

I am staying with a friend in Salem and I am exploring the town.

I am crossing one of the wide downtown Salem Streets. I have no recollection if I intentionally jay walked or not but nevertheless, when I reach the other side of the street I am greeted by one of Salem's finest motorcycle cops.

He points at me and motions me to "pull over" and says "Did you know that you just crossed the street against the light?"

I probably said "No Sir" trying to be polite. He asks "Where are you from?" and I say "San Francisco".

(You should know that I am Asian American and so usually when a gringo asks you that question they usually are asking " What country are you from" since being obviously a foreigner you couldnt possibly be an "American".)

He says with a note of suprise in his voice "Oh it sounds like you've got some education" upon hearing that my speech was urban metropolitan and accentless.

I ignore the possiblities of a caustic urbane response. He proceeds to write me a ticket. I actually think he was embarassed to write the ticket for some weird reason. What my guess was that since during the summer my asian skin tends to brown, he had pegged me as hispanic and had expected me not to speak english. I was in other words I was guilty of "walking while being brown" which perhaps is how he met his ticket quota for the day. And who knows maybe that was his way of letting us brown people that downtown Salem was for folks lily white.

Still years later, I still don't jay walk downtown. Even though it is in another city. I've internalized that oppression that my skin color makes me a potential target for transgressions that folks in white skin and the appropriate hair length and corporate costuming can get away with.

Hehe 14.Jul.2003 21:55


Sounds like he was pretty rude/presumptuous, Andrea. But I think the oppression extends to all of us. I'm about as white as they come, and I was busted for jaywalking in Honolulu in my youth. Then again, whites are the minority in Hawai'i, and there is not insignificant racism against them in much of the state.

In my case, I was actually walking in a group with the light. Most of the group was within the cross-walk, and I happened to be about 4-5 feet outside the cross-walk, as we were walking 4-5 in a line. It was quite embarassing, actually.

Jaywalking Tickets On The Rise 15.Jul.2003 07:55


Watch out . . . Taffik Kops in Portland are writing these stupid tickets downtown much more often these days. And despite what the lead article says, the suit will not always protect you. It really boils down to what kind of police officer you run into. Traffic Nazis write everybody tickets (and would probably give a baby a ticket in a stroller that was "jaystrolling" with mom or dad) and then hope for court overtime when people contest them. Precinct officers tend to ignore it unless they are in a bad mood or want to harass you.

If you want to cross the street and ignore the walk/don't walk signs, play the game and know the rules. You don't have to cross the street at the corners . . . city code sez you can cross mid-block as long as you are more than 100 feet from the crosswalk. Downtown, that means you are about mid-block. Look both ways and cross while walking in a straight line (city code violation if you cross mid-block at an angle . . . go figure?).

the cops admitted it to me 15.Jul.2003 09:32


A couple months ago, I was walking in a peaceful protest. We used the sidewalk because there weren't that many of us. We were surrounded by at least 5 bicycle cops and there were only about 50 of us walking. Before we headed out of Pioneer Square, the organizers warned us about cops selectively ticketing us for jaywalking.

About half way through the walk, I asked a cop about selectively giving tickets while it was clear that many other folks not affiliated with the march were jaywalking all around us. The cop said yes, that they were selectively giving tickets. I asked him if he thought that was fair. He said that they were using a double standard for us and that was just fine by him. I think it was his callous attitude that really bothered me. He was breaking the law as a cop and he seemed proud of it. I asked him for his name. He refused to give it and he wasn't wearing a name plate of any kind. I asked the other bike cops who he was and they refused to identify him. So that's where it stands. The cops are admittedly breaking the law and harassing peaceful law abiding citizens in the most inane ways.

Sure, when a cop is pepper spraying someone for no reason, like he/she was riding a bike legally downtown, or when a cop kills an unarmed person as was the case with Kendra James, it's blatant. When the cops harass citizens by stopping them without probable cause or by selectively giving jaywalking tickets, it seems to pass under the wire even for people who claim they are liberal.

I've written letters to my reps and senators at the state level. I've written to the Mayor herself and all of this has prompted them to respond to me with the usual "Most protestors are peaceful, but we have to pepper spray the ones that break windows."

I'm a big advocate for non violence, but when the institution fails to protect citizens and does what it can to hurt them, it's time to fight back in any way we feel comfortable.

Revolt! and be careful out there as they'd say in NYPD Blue.

J-WLK 15.Jul.2003 16:15


One of those clowns gave me a jaywalking ticket downtown about 6 months ago. I was able to argue my way out of it in traffic court but it was a ridiculous waste of time. The fact that they can make you pay $76 for crossing the street is a joke. The only satisfaction was I got to call the cop a fascist pig to his face. That was worth it I guess.

hmmm 15.Jul.2003 19:13


curious it is to me that I only know of one window that was broken during the anti war protests and it was a McDonalds window on day X. I walked by right before it was busted and noted that the only people inside were the people working...i bet that it was the most excitement they have seen since serving up the first Big Mac.

monitoring the monitors 15.Jul.2003 22:03

unity & mutual support

Today I sat a bus station for some time and watched the cops looking for people to hassle.

They tried to hassle me about having bare feet, but a brother covered for
me on the spot, telling the cop we were on our way to pick up my shoes at the repair shop.

That's quick thinking! Thanks Johnny on the spot!

I tried to return the favor by making sure the cop Knew I was observing when I was
ticketing a couple of young guys.

By the by, it looked they maybe had a box cutter.

I don't know, I just made eye contact & cruised along, but It made me think

Don't be alone with cops if you can help it. They are dangerous.

Just ask Kendra.

She was murdered at a "routine traffic stop"/

Be alert, and be visible to your friends and neighbors.

Let em know you are there and watching......


To the author of this article 11.Mar.2004 22:34


A cop would almost never get out of a patrol car to write a ticket for jaywalking. Cops usually only write jaywalking tickets when they are already on foot, and often waiting in advance for someone to jaywalk.

cop got out of the car to issue a ticket for jaywalking 06.Jul.2004 14:32

no one baerchen36@earthlink.net

well, it happened to me in san francisco, and he got out of the car to do it. i'm a dyke and they ticketed me in the middle of an empty market street on the corner of castro. and that was after the first cop, a woman, already listened to my explanation rationally. (i told them the truth, that i had gone out into the street to see if a bus or taxi was coming.) he got all into being a 'bad cop' about it because, probably, he thought i was trying to charm her out of something. they want $116 for jaywalking here. my trial is friday. anyone have any good tips on a defense?

Yes we can all get a ticket 22.Sep.2005 14:33

Christi christilstevens@yahoo.com

I crossed the street a couple of weeks ago and there were no cars coming. I was not at the light though, two cop car saw and they stoped got out and wrote me a ticket. Not a small ticket a $350.00 jay walking ticket. By the end I had 6 cops surrounding me. Meanwhile I would say that I saw a total of 15 other people doing the exact same thing and they stopped no one else. I am a small build 5"6 female. I posed no threat, I understand what I did was wrong but I just took about 30 min of 6 cops time so that they could feel like they were big time!