Friday, 12 January 2007

What every Brit should know about jaywalking

In the UK no one would bat an eyelid. In Atlanta, you could be wrestled to the ground.
It is a cautionary tale for any traveller - distinguished historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto tried to cross the road while in Atlanta for the conference of the American Historical Association, only to find himself in handcuffs and surrounded by armed police.

"I come from a country where you can cross the road where you like," said the visiting professor of global environmental history at Queen Mary College, University of London. "It hadn't occurred to me that I wasn't allowed to cross the road between the two main conference venues."

The bespectacled professor says he didn't realise the "rather intrusive young man" shouting that he shouldn't cross there was a policeman. "I thanked him for his advice and went on."

The officer asked for identification. The professor asked for his, after which Officer Leonpacher told him he was under arrest and, the professor claims, kicked his legs from under him, pinned him to the ground and confiscated his box of peppermints.

Professor Fernandez-Armesto then spent eight hours in the cells before the charges were dropped. He told the Times that his colleagues now regard him as "as a combination of Rambo, because it took five cops to pin me to the ground, and Perry Mason, because my eloquence before a judge obtained my immediate release".

Not every jaywalking Brit abroad will be similarly blessed, nor enjoy the intervention of the city mayor.