On walking and biking justice in America

In the wake of the weekend’s not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, my mother called me from St. Louis completely outraged. She was certain that there must be some kind of law against following a person who was just walking down the street, getting into an altercation with them, and then shooting them.

Thousands of protestors across the nation and many more supporters at home apparently thought the same thing, taking to the streets to protest the decision and so-called “stand your ground” laws on the books in many states.

The Orlando region is the #1 most dangerous area in the US for someone on foot (and there’s quite a bit of competition for that spot). But that’s not why Trayvon Martin is dead today. The case is a prominent example of an ugly reality about America’s streets: The right to simply walk down the street is not extended equally to people of all skin colors. Or as my friend Adonia put it:

Apparently, the right to bike is also not extended equally. Earlier this month, a group of people biking in Gardena in LA County were pulled over by police. When pressed for a reason, the officer said they were impeding traffic, which they were not.

It is very unlikely that a group of white people biking on an LA County street would be pulled over like that. But what is even more unlikely is what happened next: They were all forced to put their hands behind their backs so officers could frisk them:

22400 (a) vc Impeding Traffic from Danny and Kat ZKO on Vimeo.

To make the illustration even more stark, the group was on a ride to bring awareness to a recent road death by installing a ghost bike at the site and riding to City Hall to ask why the previous ghost bike had been removed. At least one member even had completed a group ride safety course.

But that’s not even relevant, because anyone, no matter their skin color, has a right to ride a bike down the street without harassment like this.

Sure, prejudice in America unfortunately permeates all modes of transportation. But I can’t get the Gardena video out of my head. As someone who writes so often about road safety and the fight for fair treatment for all road users, it’s important to remember that for many residents out walking and biking, the injustice of dangerous streets is just one more layer of injustice they have to face.

More details on the Gardena story from Streetsblog LA:

The United Riders of South Los Angeles had just left the memorial site for Benjamin Torres, killed last October in Gardena in a hit-and-run, when they were pulled over by the Gardena Police Department.

They had stopped at the site to replace Torres’ original ghost bike, which had recently been removed by the city. They wanted the site to be ready to host this month’s memorial ride.

After securing the bike, they had headed toward city hall to inquire about its confiscation and about the possibility of working with the city so that the memorial could be allowed to stand. That’s when a female officer passed them, swung around and got behind them, and then finally pulled them over, claiming they were impeding traffic.

Actually, according to John Jones III, president of the East Side Riders, she didn’t tell them why she had pulled them over at first.

They asked, but were told to sit down and turn around.

The more they asked the more frustrated she got, putting her hand on her service weapon, blaming what she perceived as their noncompliance for delaying the process, and, finally, calling for back-up.

When the other officers arrived, they frisked the cyclists — including the petite Rese Chaidez, Torres’ step-daughter –  and ran their IDs.

Read more…

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5 Responses to On walking and biking justice in America

  1. Fnarf says:

    Not only that, but when they did get to talk to the mayor about the ghost bike, he smiled and promised to look into it — but while this was happening the bike was removed a second time. Talk about a big FU.

  2. no traffic lights says:

    what a huge kick in the balls

  3. Al Dimond says:

    There are certain police officers who, once they stop you, are determined to pin something on you, regardless of the reason for the stop. It’s an attitude problem — a failure of conflict resolution, a need to justify the initial stop with some kind of charge. These officers are doing their jobs poorly, in a way that’s detrimental to society, and it’s vital to society that they be retrained to work more cooperatively and removed from their positions if they can’t. Instead they’re protected by their bureaucracy, by their unions, by politicians.

    It really is hard for people to admit they’re wrong, to de-escalate. The fact that it’s just as hard for police officers turns police profiling from a disrespectful slight to a serious injustice.

  4. Caron LeMay says:

    This is sickening. The behavior of their mayor is shameful as well.
    I hope they are able to recover the bike they put up as a memorial.

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