The earliest known use of the word jaywalker in print was in the Chicago Tribune in 1909. The term’s dissemination was due mostly to a deliberate effort by promoters of the automobile industry, such as local auto clubs and dealers, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong. The automobile is a commodity which has created its own legal code.

j-walking into the street

Originally, the Chicago law was that “all persons have an equal right in the highway, and that in exercising the right each shall take due care not to injure other users of the way.” But over the course of time, streets became the territory of motorized traffic, both legally and socially. The automobile lobby in the USA took up the cause of labeling and scorning jaywalkers in the 1910s and early 1920s. A counter-campaign to name (and disapprove of) “jay drivers” failed.

In most American cities, j-walking is so pervasive that it simply cannot be stopped. People dart in and out of New York City traffic so fast that for police to spend their time ticketing and citing them would be seen as, in the eyes of the state, a waste of police resources. In other places, however, the state has no problem with the selectively applying the j-walking offense to blacks. In Seattle, the citations collected from j-walking and other low-level misdemeanor crimes are being used to finance the city’s budget crisis. As the anarchist comrades from Seattle’s Arctic Circle Collective posted earlier today on their blog, the recent attempt from Seattle police to cite black youth for j-walking turned into a bad PR case for the racist Seattle Police Department:

Cop punches girl for j-walking

Video of the punch  here. Northwest Cable News,

“It turns out, jaywalking stops tend to provoke greater tensions than many other crimes, and a recent report warned Seattle Police that physical confrontations over minor infractions are becoming a dangerous trend.” [1]

From the Arctic Circle Collective,

Everyone remembers the recent stomping of a handcuffed Latino man by a white Seattle cop proclaiming, “I’m going to kick the Mexican piss out of you, homie.”  Or the murder of 7 year-old Aiyana Jones, shot in the neck by the heavily armed Detroit police in her own home. Or the beating of 15-year-old Malika Calhoun in a holding cell in November 2009 by Paul Schene—a cop who had shot and killed previously.  Or the public summary execution of Oscar Grant in Oakland, 2008.

These are undeniable glimpses of the entirely normal violence we are all subjected to everyday, albeit in more subtle forms. We are all jaywalkers, literally and figuratively… That people might move to break authority’s stranglehold and wrest away their lives is unacceptable to power, so we find that our very existence is criminal… This system is violence, and cops are its enforcers—brutal by design.

Remember Christopher Monfort:

We’ll fight, and we’re everywhere, you can’t see us coming.