Victims Arrested, Assailants Walk Free: Dark Days for Traffic Justice

Few regular readers of this blog need to be convinced that pedestrians and cyclists of all stripes — i.e. the vast majority of New Yorkers — are completely vulnerable to serious injury and death at the hands of reckless motorists. Though collisions, near misses and confrontations occur with such frequency that even fatalities often go overlooked in the media, every now and then a flurry of events shows just how far we have to go in balancing the scales of traffic justice. To wit, here’s what’s happened in the last few days:

  • Last Thursday, 8-year-old Axel Pablo was struck down by a yellow cab driver as he and family members crossed a Harlem street. Witnesses say the driver, Akim Saiful Alam, was speeding and talking on a cell phone as he rounded the corner and hit Axel in the crosswalk at Lexington Avenue and 112th Street, and that he would have fled the scene had bystanders not forced him to stop. The crowd cheered as Alam was taken away in cuffs, but he was released a short time later, NYPD having determined that he had violated no laws.
  • On Friday morning, Queens pedestrian Gerald Beekman had his first court appearance stemming from a May incident in Long Island City. Beekman was arrested by NYPD officers and charged by District Attorney Richard A. Brown’s office with criminal mischief for allegedly damaging the vehicle of a driver he says nearly ran him over, along with his two dogs, two times in a matter of minutes. From what we can determine, Beekman’s accuser, the unidentified driver, faces no charges. (An update on Beekman’s case is forthcoming.) Meanwhile, cyclist Ray Bengen — facing a criminal mischief charge in Manhattan for touching the SUV of a driver he thought was about to mow him down — has seen his livelihood threatened as DA Robert Morgenthau’s office keeps him in legal purgatory.
  • Yesterday Gawker reported that Morgenthau’s office will not be pursuing charges against Don Broderick, the driver who allegedly attacked Central Park cyclist Brian Dooda with his SUV in June. Broderick is said to have hit Dooda before driving through the park with the cyclist hanging onto the hood, then driving off. A Morgenthau spokesperson told Gawker that prosecutors “could not sustain the burden of proof on personal injury” but declined to comment on the decision not to charge Broderick with leaving the scene.
  • On Friday evening, cyclist and safe streets advocate James Langergaard died at a Queens Boulevard intersection. His relatives were told that witnesses say Langergaard, an experienced and by all accounts conscientious rider, ran a red light. But as in the case of Rasha Shamoon, another cyclist known for safety whose fatal August 2008 collision was recounted to police by her killer and his friends, the circumstances of Langergaard’s death went uninvestigated and unreported by local media.

To sum up: Tell the police a pedestrian or cyclist touched your vehicle, have the perp hauled in. Get taken for a ride on the hood of a raging sociopath’s SUV, or watch your child struck dead by a speeding distracted driver, police and prosecutors just can’t make a case. Tell the police you saw a motorist break the law and injure or kill, get ignored. Tell the police you saw a pedestrian or cyclist break the law and get injured or killed, case closed.

It is hopeful that DA candidates are taking traffic justice seriously in the current election. Help can’t come soon enough.

  • Eventually, the law will be enforced even if people have to do it themselves. Authorities would do well to realize this.

  • Kaja’s most thrilling post ever.

  • Makes me think twice about coming into the city this weekend to enjoy the last of the Summer Streets weekends. Maybe I should go for a ride out in the Somerset Hills instead and spend my money out there on my post ride sit-down lunch.

    Also remind me to be teleported to Walk 21 in October. Don’t want to run the risk of leaning against someones car, requiring a call to the SWAT Team.

  • xxx

    There are two factors: vehicular assault and the right to defend oneself. If you are on a bike and a car passes you close enough that you can reach it, the car is dangerously close. In many jurisdictions it is illegally close. If you feel that your life or safety is threatened, you have a right to defend yourself. In this type of case a person on a bicycle punching, hitting or kicking an SUV would be a perfectly justified as this is a form of fending off an attacker that poses an immediate threat. If the driver makes any statement that a cyclist struck the vehicle while being passed, the driver has made a de facto admission of unsafe passing, and should be ticketed.

    Also, I don’t see how criminal mischief would apply if no damage was done. This charge is typically applied in cases of vandalism, breaking windows, etc.

    I’ve got a friend who works on the railroad. He was flagging a crossing (without gates or lights) and a driver decided to race the train, and almost run over my friend while doing it. My friend kicked the car as it passed and put a good dent in it. The driver called the cops to complain about the damage done to his car, and the cops wrote him a ticket for not stopping for the train. No ticket for my friend, who was almost run over. As it should be.

  • MrManhattan

    The real problem is that the majority of police and prosecutors aren’t city residents, and therefore don’t regard anything without a car wrapped around it as human.

    Time for home rule. Where’s our “teabag” party ???

  • ^Is this true? I’d like to see some proof. If it’s true we have all the proof we need to discredit a lot of these people.

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