Cited for Being in Plain Sight: How California Policies Being Black, Brown, and Unhoused in Public

  • 37% of all citations given in California were related to a person existing in a public place such as sleeping, sitting, or standing.  
  • Every person cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana in Hayward, California between 2017 and 2019 was a person of color. 
  • Five of the 10 counties surveyed issue warrants for non-payment of non-traffic infractions.

This report provides a detailed analysis of non-traffic infraction data collected in California. The research shows that Black and Latinx people are cited at higher rates than White people for everyday behaviors such as standing and sleeping, causing these communities to bear a disproportionate amount of fines and fees that they can’t afford to pay. In some counties throughout the state, warrants can be issued and people can be arrested for failing to pay their citations or appear in court although people do not have a right to an attorney to defend them in court. The authors discuss how the enforcement of these citations negatively impacts the homeless population. The personal accounts included throughout this publication illustrate the devastating effects and consequences of the current system on the state’s most vulnerable residents. 

You can read the full text of the study here

Key findings


  • Black adults were up to 9.7 times more likely and Latinx adults were 5.8 times more likely to receive citations under local codes than White adults living in the same jurisdiction. 
  • Black adults in San Diego were four times more likely to be cited for infractions than White adults.
  • In the City of Los Angeles, 63% of all citations for loitering/standing were given to Black people. People who fail to pay or appear in court could have a warrant issued for their arrest and could be arrested. 
  • Jaywalking was the most common non-traffic infraction for which the Long Beach Police Department cited people. Black people received 36% of all citations for non-traffic infractions but they only make up 11% of the population in the jurisdiction. 
  • In Hayward, California, possession of a small amount of marijuana was the second-most cited non-traffic infraction between 2017 and 2019.
  • In Bakersfield, jaywalking downtown was the most-commonly cited infraction. 28% of people cited for it were Black whereas Black adults only make up 6% of the city’s population. 
  • Of the people interviewed, every person was fined $100 or more and most people were assessed from $250 to $500. 
  • In two counties with ability-to-pay mechanisms, 50% of homeless people or those receiving public benefits were denied relief from court costs. 
  • Only 46% of non-traffic infraction cases were disposed of in 2017-18. 


  • Reduce and eventually eliminate the enforcement of non-traffic infractions. 


Elisa Della-Piana, Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Tori Larson, Cecilia Bermudez, Kiana Herold, Khalid Samarrae, and Sam Lew
Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Of The San Francisco Bay Area