In 2015, The Tampa Bay Times published a groundbreaking article. It exposed how Tampa Police were deliberately targeting black riders. Out of all cycling tickets issued, 79% of these were to black Americans. In the article, residents shared stories of the outcomes of this type of harassment.
There were several cases of officers confiscating bicycles. Why? For no other reason than the rider couldn’t prove they had legally bought the bike. I don’t know about you, but I don’t carry my bike receipt with me.
The Times shared a story about how officers stopped a man, 63-year old Lloyd Brown because he didn’t have lights on his bike. Except he did. Yet even after the officers acknowledged he had a light, they continued to question him. They found a small amount of crack.
The Times wrote this: ‘”Let me explain something to you, okay?” the officer said. “If you do anything dumb, your head will hit this ground very hard, okay? And you will go to the hospital before you go to jail.”‘
In another incident, officers stopped 33-year-old Artis Hancock. He ran a stop sign on his bike. Hancock tried to flee. Officers “punched, kicked, and choked him into unconsciousness.”
At Hancock’s hearing, a public defender argued the search was illegal. The public defender argued Hancock’s charges should be dismissed.
The Times Wrote:
Judge Samantha Ward listened to the officers try to justify their suspicion that Hancock may have had a weapon on him, which they said prompted them to search Hancock without consent.
“He was in a high-crime area,” said one officer.
“He had large clothing,” said another.
Before she dismissed all of Hancock’s criminal charges, Ward quipped:
“Was he black, too?”
But that was in 2015. Surely Tampa Bay has eliminated these racist practices right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Less than a year ago, WTSP returned to see if the issue had improved. It hadn’t.
Biking While Black Isn’t Only in Tampa
As shocking as The Time’s article is, Tampa Bay is just one town. The problem is biking while black racist practices aren’t only in Tampa Bay. Precincts from Chicago to Oakland to Detroit all have similar practices.
Police stop people in high crime neighborhoods for minor infractions. By doing so, they hope to prevent more egregious crimes. But in reality, the tactic doesn’t work. Instead, it creates a gap between the officers and the people who need their protection most.
Furthermore, it humiliates innocent people in front of their social circles. An officer stops you and you see your friends pass by, your teacher or your pastor. Then people want to know what happened, what were you doing, why were you stopped.
And of course, not all officers are bad, racist, or crooked. Officers have some of the hardest jobs a civilian can take on. They work long hard hours, they’re regularly judged, and most of them genuinely want to help people.
On top of that, many end up suffering PTSD, and their home lives often take a hit from their demanding career. These are just a few of the horrible things police officers have to deal with.
But believing in a noble cause doesn’t justify these practices.
In New York, similar stop and frisk policies existed with the idea to curb crime. In 2013, a federal lawsuit ruled them unconstitutional. But the way that officers deliberately target minorities in high crime neighborhoods is only one step away from that. Citizens only need to make a mild traffic violation, then they’re subjugated to the same stop and frisk humiliation. Because officers aren’t stopping these people to enforce bike laws. They’re hoping to uncover some other crime.
Tampa’s former police chief Jane Castor now says that these practices were not an effective approach. In fact, she said, “The citations were a mistake.” This “mistake” put people in jail. It forced people to hop from house to house because they couldn’t get an apartment. It cost people their jobs. And so far, we haven’t seen the policies change.
But biking while black isn’t the only issue black Americans face. Black Americans are less likely to be able to find a job. They’re less likely to ever be able to afford a home and more likely to be incarcerated. The black incarceration rate is currently more than 5 times that of the white rate. Being black even means fewer responses on dating apps.
This is not a failure of a group of people, but of our entire economic and social structure. We’ve made strides towards equality. But hundreds of years of slavery and racism still impact the way our society is designed. We each hold beliefs – conscious or not – that shape and impact this system. (Think you don’t have a racial bias? Guess again. This test illuminates your subconscious bias. It’s free – give it a shot.)
And we need to do something about that.
Biking Can Change The Future, But Only If Everyone’s Involved
There are hundreds of economic and social structures in place. They make it harder for black Americans to succeed in our country. One of these structures is biking. We talked about how officers target blacks on bikes in high crime neighborhoods. This one tactic accumulates to an impact that can keep black Americans disenfranchised.
Let’s take the case of a woman who was pushing her bike home after cooking for an elderly neighbor. Officers issued her a $51 ticket for not having a light. Thanks to late fees, the ticket has nearly doubled to $90. She still can’t pay.
Or the cases where officers confiscated a bike because the rider couldn’t prove ownership. Those people relied on their bikes as their only mode of transportation. Now they can’t get to work. They can’t get groceries for their families.
These tactics have consequences that can be life-shattering.
And the issues keep compounding.
We Can’t Fix the Issues If We Don’t Include Everyone
The fact is, being born with a skin color other than white in America instantly puts you at a disadvantage. And the people who can most benefit from biking are being deliberately shut out. Many people who want to bike don’t because they’re worried about being targeted, especially by cops. If that doesn’t stop them, the sheer cost of buying a bike keeps them off the road.
This puts more stress on our healthcare system, it keeps the poor poor, and it increases the toll on the environment. There are over 37 million black Americans. We cannot allow this many people to be crushed in the system.
Give A Bike, Help Out a Fellow Human
So here’s what you can do. We challenge you do make a sacrifice to change someone else’s life. When you buy a luxury e-bike, we challenge you to donate a bike of equal quality. Donate your old bike, or pay for an upgrade kit to help turn a bike into an e-bike. If nothing else, we challenge you to donate whatever you can to help put someone on a bike. We work directly with local organizations to make sure the bikes get into good hands. We make sure they have the papers to prove they own it.
Share the Wealth of Biking: You Can Make A Difference
Fact is, our systems are flawed. Policies and practices exist that make it harder for certain groups of people to improve their lives. But you can make a difference. Donate your old bike, or front the cost of a new bike. If you can buy a luxury e-bike, we challenge you to buy another and donate it to those who can use it most.
Are you ready to do something great and change a life? Reach out to us here and we’ll help you get involved.