Considering self-policing

The extent of my personal criminal activity is likely my cumulative jaywalking/running.

Kate Nelson

On one of the first sunshine-stained days of last week, I, like every animal that has been deprived of natural sunlight for months, just couldn’t keep myself indoors. So to the streets of the city I took.

My feet felt liberated to actually be partaking in a full-fledged run after a winter of feigning satisfaction with the gym’s elliptical machines. Before I knew it, they had carried me to downtown Minneapolis, my untiring body performing as though it were gathering energy directly from the sun.

As I strode down Hennepin Avenue, I saw before me clusters of people crowding the curb, waiting for the disappearance of that little orange hand to indicate the time to cross. This scene struck me as odd as the one-way roads of the downtown area are easily navigated as a pedestrian – much more so than if you’re trying to direct a vehicle through them. Plus, the groups gathered outside Block E at four in the afternoon are rarely timid enough to restrain from catcalling, let alone crossing the street illegally.

I cast a look toward the oncoming traffic to my left, and seeing that the closest, most life-threatening vehicles were still two blocks away, I didn’t even slow my pace as I crossed. As my foot hit the opposite sidewalk, I looked up just in time to see what had paralyzed these people: There stood two police officers, one of whom, arms crossed and all, feigned disapproval as he said, “Please cross with the lights, miss.”

I replied a quick, breathy “sorry” as I continued to run. During the rest of my adventure, I made sure to do just as the officer had instructed, but soon I realized I wasn’t sorry, not in the slightest.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became with the notion that I had been reprimanded for jayrunning while attempting to better at least one thing in society, even if only my health. Was I, while crossing the street after considering the potential danger in which I was putting myself and others, really a threat from which someone, somewhere needed serving and protecting?

Now I don’t normally endorse illegal activity and admit that the extent I’ve committed is likely my cumulative jaywalking/running. But who’s committing more of a crime here: me, crossing the street illegally while on a run, or them, perpetuating the idea of public servants as kitten-in-tree fetchers?

I realize that there exist people in our society who don’t always make positive choices and, for this reason, must have their actions policed. But if you are a fully capable citizen without ill intentions, shouldn’t you be allowed to, say, cross the street when you have determined it safe?

Can this and similar laws act not as stop signs, with complete jurisdiction over the individual, but rather as yield signs, which allow some room for consideration of the situation and self-propelled action?

Alas, though I know this argument will sadly never grow legs strong enough to support itself, I will still lovingly dream of a society in which citizens are trusted to make good decisions – like when to cross the street.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]