An exercise in blaming the victim

I perked up last month when I saw that the Fresno Bee had devoted an entire article to the epidemic of vehicle violence. I had recently noted that the Bee is littered with stories about deaths, injuries and tragedy on our streets ever day, and was excited about something that may contain an actual investigation, and not just a retyping of the police logs.

The article that actually took a look into the epidemic is called  Pedestrian deaths a tragic trend in Fresno.

Unlike last months excellent LA Weekly piece on the extraordinary amount of hit and runs in Los Angeles, and the completely ineffective work by police departments to stop this, the Fresno Bee story took a different angle: how to blame the pedestrian.

Many of the pedestrian victims wore dark clothing and walked on the
roadway at night, said Sgt. Richard Tucker, of the traffic bureau. Tiani
Philpot was wearing dark clothing and walking south in the southbound
slow lane of four-lane Marks Avenue, near Emerson Avenue, when she was
hit about 11:30 p.m.

“The roads are not designed for pedestrians,” Tucker said. “They are designed for vehicles.”

Read more here:

Yes, how dare the victim wear dark clothing. Clearly, when she planned out her outfit early that morning, she should have considered that she’d be walking in an area with no sidewalk, and no street lights.

She was hit and killed in a school zone. But instead of street lights and sidewalks, it was deemed more important to have five lanes available for cars. The officer is right, this road wasn’t designed for pedestrians. Instead of directing blame at the city engineering department, for designing this, and instead of directing blame at the motorists, who was driving too fast for conditions, isn’t it just easier to blame the deceased?


You’ll note a very well worn desire path on the right. Clearly, many people walk here. At night however, without streetlights, it may have been impossible for her to see that dirt path, or perhaps it was muddy or flooded.

Incidentally, that area just got a new traffic light in the past year. A crosswalk was added. But take a look at how much care was placed on this brand new construction (which you can see from the sign was funded by the stimulus). A remarkably narrow sidewalk, with a pole placed in the middle. An ADA violation like this, in something built in 2012 is unacceptable, but don’t expect an inquiry as to how this was approved.


From the above quote, you might remember officer Tucker from a previous incident. He was quoted in a very similar story about a student hit by a vehicle in another part of town, again without sidewalks or street lights.

While Fresno Police work to determine who was at fault and whether the
lack of lighting contributed to the crash, Sgt. Richard Tucker wants to
remind pedestrians to take precautions to keep themselves safe.

“Walking in the roadway is not a place to walk, we’re asking pedestrians
to cross at the intersection, to push the button and wait for it to say
walk. And of course the cross walk isn’t always a safe zone. We’re
asking you always look both ways before you cross the road,” said Sgt.

In that story, there were no buttons to push, or sidewalks to walk on. For the officer, that didn’t matter, the student should have attended school elsewhere I guess.

Isn’t it great to know that the officer at the traffic bureau approaches cases involving pedestrians this way? I’m sure that leads to a fair and balanced collection of evidence and issuance of tickets. Why collect data on speeds, cell records, narcotics, road design etc when one can just point at the color of clothing worn by the victim and close the case?

It’s not just him though. His fellow officer sees a solution to the all these killings: tickets…..for pedestrians.

Capt. Andy Hall said the simple solution would be to hold pedestrians accountable. But there’s no hammer to punish them, he said. For
example, red-light runners and drunken drivers face stiff fines. Their
insurance goes up and they might lose their license, Hall said. Pedestrians who put themselves in danger get a jaywalking citation, Hall said. There is no threat of losing a license.

He has ordered his traffic officers to focus on people who jaywalk, ignore “Don’t walk” warnings or dart into traffic.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Clearly jaywalking tickets are the solution to a problem created by a lack of sidewalks, no street lights, and no crosswalks.

No, it’s not the streets with 50mph limits. It’s not like 6 lanes of traffic with nowhere to walk. It’s not the texting or drunk driving. It’s the lack of jaywalking tickets.

And if only pedestrians had licenses….that would solve everything. The threat of losing a license would clearly force the pedestrians to use their teleporting skills to navigate their way around town, instead of the street.

Speaking of those drunk drivers, that apparently get punished….remember the Globe story on the lack of penalties for DUIs? The Fresno Bee should do something similar. Every week they report on 5-15 drivers getting arrested at the one DUI checkpoint for driving drunk. That doesn’t tell us if they’re free to go the very next day or not.

Instead, they published a descriptive list of the fourteen pedestrians killed in 2012. No such list is available for those injured, just killed. While the list details the clothes the pedestrians were wearing (last I checked, no laws on that), it also mentions something about the drivers.

Making the likely assumption that hit and run driver = drunk driver….

The drivers who killed pedestrians were…..
Drunk (no street lights)
Drunk. (no street lights)
Drunk (no street lights)
Not at fault (suicidal pedestrian)
Not drunk (kids)
Not drunk
Not drunk
Not drunk (no street lights)
Not drunk
Not drunk

So 14 pedestrian deaths. In six of them, the driver was drunk or fled. In four of them, there were no street lights. Not mentioned are the cyclists killed, including one the same day the story was published. That was also a hit and run.

Clearly the pattern here is that jaywalking tickets would solve everything.Why design better streets or crack down on reckless driving when blaming the victim is just so easy?

14 Replies to “An exercise in blaming the victim”

  1. Let's analogize to railroad crossings. In almost every case, a railroad was built before the motorway existed. And the railroads take the attitude: We were here first. If you want to cross our corridor, it's your responsibility to work it out.

    People moved on foot for a million years before there were cars. Cars intrude on walkers' space. It's up to the cars to see that they carry out such intrusion safely for those who were there before.

  2. Extremely well put. Perfect write up.

    I would comment to the notion of licenses that walking or cycling badly all ready comes in with a built in punishment: the death penalty.

    Most cyclists/peds actually want to live as much as motorists do, and we act accordingly.

    Also, I'll throw out there, how come after billions on our transporation system, we have created an environment where a single mistep in walking equals death. Spend less money and we'd actually be safer!

    Best wishes.

  3. "An ADA violation like this, in something built in 2012 is unacceptable, but don't expect an inquiry as to how this was approved. "

    Anyone who has suffered an actual injury, in legal terms — for instance, any wheelchair user who tried to use this route — has the right to sue. They can obtain money damages or a court order forcing the reconstruction of the intersection.

    I suggest you find a wheelchair user and do it. It's worth it to force these jackasses to follow the law.

    1. Sometimes I wonder why ADA lawsuits against the government arent a bigger business. The major common one is when construction closes sidewalks with no accommodation for the disabled.

      My favorite is over the past year, Fresno redid 100+ sidewalk ramps to make them ADA compliant. Except during the month of construction, the ramp was blocked off with no alternative. Doh.

  4. You're talking about this intersection,I assume?

    I don't know if we could prove the unfinished sidewalks beyond the lights are pedestrian pathways. By the city's intent, it seems as if they didn't construct the sidewalks beyond the lights for pedestrians. It seems that they built the sidewalks to the maintenance boxes potentially for technical support reasons while they closed off the other walkway with a sign. It turns out though that Fresno has some pretty stringent requirements for ADA and crosswalk complacency. Scroll down to No.7. It states that the 'American Disability Act requires 4' clearance for pedestrian pathways."

    Scroll down to 14 on this one. Here it is.

    "Crosswalk Layouts Meet City Standards

    (4' from face of curb at ramp, 10' wide, no doglegs, median noses clear of crosswalk)"

    That last bit you may like.

    I think I saw a service box.

    I think I remember seeing something for the city lighting those types of boxes under cobra heads somewhere in its street lighting standards. I'll need to have another look.

    1. The city puts the responsibility of sidewalks on the developer. Sidewalks are required, but arent built until the property is built up. Could be 6 months, could be 60 years.

    2. So there are no mandates on sidewalks to ever be built? Are there any laws requiring them to be built around schools and other public venues that see great pedestrian traffic?

    3. Thats an interesting question. From what I understand, the city requires a sidewalk be built when a developer files their plans for approval for a new development. Thats a city policy thing, which they can waive.

      IE: I posted abut a new development in Clovis without sidewalks

      Theres no state or federal requirement for sidewalks.

      Now, one CAN attack the government for their sidewalk policy on both ADA merits and civil rights merits. That is, in the past many communities openly blocked sidewalks because they wanted to keep "those people" out, as "those people" didnt own cars and thus walked.. As "those people" tended to be of a certain race or ethnicity, it was shown to be clear discrimination.

      At this point, most governments understand that sidewalks are pretty important, and in the Fresno area, it's only the mountain communities that continue to allow new developments without any.

    4. I just thought of something, you know how the city requires developers to have a percentage of their new developments within the city as infill? It seems that whenever new suburbs in the countryside sprout up they get allot of new and relatively good infrastructure, are there any mandates on the city's part to uphold the infill policy in the form of public infrastructure?

  5. I've biked down this street…it really needs a speed limit reduction to about 30-35mph and a road diet or a redesign. The cars drive at highway speeds, I'd guess in the neighborhood of around 50mph. It genuinely feels unsafe because of the drivers speeding so fast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *