Police charged them with unlawfully obstructing traffic and failure to have reflective gear. That’s a misdemeanor that could put a person in a highly visible orange jumpsuit for up to a year.
“I”m upset about the situation,” Deonte Williams, 21, told local TV news station KATC-3 TV. Williams said if anything, the driver should have been cited. He told the station the trio was walking on the grass beside the roadway when the pickup hit them.
The incident also comes as a growing body of research suggests that minorities are invisible to many drivers. A jaywalking video involving police and an African American in Florida provoked “walking while black” controversy.
Yes, it’s wise to wear light-colored or reflective clothing and walk against traffic if you’re on a road or a street — whether in a small Louisiana town or anywhere else. But what public menace prompted local officials to write a law punishing lapses in common sense? How does law enforcement determine whether someone’s gear is reflective? And are we talking bicycle reflectors? Nike decals? Talk about a law that invites discriminatory enforcement.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Ville Platt Police Chief Neal Lartigue declined to discuss the Aug. 22 incident. A news release, issued under his name, stated the basics: the three were walking near North Chataignier and East Lincoln Road about 8 p.m. when the Chevrolet pickup hit them. The driver, who wasn’t identified, remained at the scene. The three pedestrians were taken to the hospital and charged with breaking the law.
This seems like an exceptionally unwise move by a police force that received the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice two years ago for holding people in jail without probable cause. The Justice Department found evidence that the Ville Platte police and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office had been unlawfully keeping people in custody on “investigative holds” even though the police lacked probable cause to do so. (The Justice Department, in a statement released in December, also praised the Louisiana department for taking steps to end the practice.)
Who’s to say the Louisiana pickup driver wasn’t blinded. But so were the cops.