By Erasmus Baxter
Students are outraged after University Police began handing out $68 tickets for failing to obey the crossing light outside of the Wade King Rec Center on Thursday, April 12.
Twenty-three tickets, as well as some warnings, were issued, Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing, said.
“The ultimate goal is compliance and pedestrian safety; there are a combination of ways to achieve this goal and enforcement is just one of them,” he said in an email.
Eric Lim, a fifth year manufacturing engineer major, was heading to his plastics and composites engineering class when he got a ticket. He didn’t see any cars coming so he decided to cross to get to class on time, he said.
“I feel appalled that they are charging college students $68 for jaywalking, we are doing no harm to society or people and I feel like campus and/or Bellingham police can use their resources on actual crimes,” he said in an email. “I don’t see this much effort in stopping males entering women’s bathrooms, or flashing women on campus or making the campus feel actually safe.”
Junior Marissa Johnson agreed. She was walking to class when she saw three students being ticketed by police. She later encountered one of the students who was in tears because of the ticket, she said.
“She was like, ‘I can’t pay for this now, this is ridiculous,’” Johnson said.
Western’s Central Health and Safety Committee had been concerned about pedestrian safety and discussed it at several recent meetings, Cocke said.
Two students have been hit and injured by cars in the area around campus this school year. While one was hit outside the Ridge while jaywalking, the other was struck while in a crosswalk near Birnam Wood and the driver was cited, The Western Front reported.
“The amount of jaywalking on campus has reached dangerous levels,” Cocke wrote in an email.
The committee identified the intersection of Bill McDonald Parkway and West College Way as one of several areas on campus to target to reduce jaywalking, Cocke said. This is because it is a place where a significant amount of jaywalking occurs and there is a high concern than jaywalking there could lead to injury or death, he said.
Tickets were issued because University Police have issued many warnings about jaywalking over years, with jaywalking still continuing, he said. The Bellingham Police Department is also emphasizing jaywalking and pedestrian-involved collisions.
Both students noted that all three students, including Lim, they saw ticketed were students of color.
Lim said while he and two other students of color were being ticketed, five white students jaywalked and police did nothing because they said they were too busy.
“I don’t want to say they were specifically targeting students of color, but if five white students got by without being flagged down by police who were there SPECIFICALLY for jaywalking and couldn’t tell them to stop for a second is really concerning,” he said in an email.
AS Legal Information Center Coordinator Omolade Anna Iyun said all the students who have contacted them so far about receiving tickets have been students of color. The center is working with students to find out about the appeal process and present a case for discrimination, she said.
Cocke said it’s absolutely false that students of color were targeted.
“Absolutely not. University Police cited people for jaywalking, not because of them being people of color,” he said.
A copy of a ticket given to Lim shows the ticket will be have to dealt with in Whatcom County District Court, instead of Bellingham Municipal Court.
She also said students were being ticketed for crossing while the red light was blinking, something neither she, nor any other students she spoke to, realized was illegal.
While sandwich boards at the intersection told students that it was illegal, Lim said he didn’t see the sign and Johnson felt it was insufficient.
Johnson said after speaking to the upset student, she called the AS to complain, and she plans to file a complaint with campus services.
“I’ve done it. Everyone I know has done it,” she said. “There’s no reason you should get a $68 fine for something everyone does [without getting some warning].”
Cocke said that over a period of years University Police have issued many warnings about jaywalking. However, the problem persists and is dangerous, he said.
He said it is important to note that University Police Chief Darin Rasmussen is always willing to hear about specific concerns members of the campus community might have about University Police.
If you received a ticket, you can contact the legal information center at AS.LegalInfo@wwu.edu.