NYPD Harassment: Five Cyclists in Their Own Words
12:48 AM EDT on April 25, 2019
The cops who confiscated bikes and harassed kids for not having bells on Saturday were not the exception, but the rule — one of police intimidation and provocation that cyclists say they put up with on a daily basis.
More than 50 armed officers swarmed Tompkins Square Park — and later Union Square Park — where riders were gathering for the sixth annual “Race and Bake” bike event. But before the event could start, cops arrested the race’s organizer, Shardy Nieves, on a four-year-old open container warrant that was immediately dismissed by a Bronx judge. The cops had shown Nieves pages from his social media account, and indicated that they had stalked him to the event. While there, police also confiscated kids’ bikes for not having bells on them, even though they weren't riding them at the time — a clear violation of the law that requires cyclists actually be in motion.
Bike and transportation advocates sounded the alarm, charging the de Blasio administration with, in the words of Transportation Alternatives' Marco Conner, “misplaced priorities and racist policies." He added that it was nothing more than stop-and-frisk under a different name.
It comes as periodic crackdowns on cyclists continue, along with Mayor de Blasio's stepped-up enforcement against e-bike riders, most of whom are low-wage immigrant delivery workers. The mayor claims they are dangerous, despite the city's own data that shows they are not.
Harassment happens almost daily, even when it's not caught on camera or written up in the news. Cyclists hanging out at Union Square Park on Wednesday told Streetsblog that what happened over the weekend was no surprise given how the NYPD treats bikers — especially those of color.
Here are five cyclists' stories:
"Yesterday we were hanging out right here doing exactly what we do every day and the cop stood right there and had his body camera on and his personal phone on, he was recording us. I said, 'Officer, what is the purpose of recording us on your personal phone,’ and he goes, ‘Making sure who has bells. If you don't have a bell, I could take your bike.’
"It’s not even about (the bells) — all they’re doing is trying to nitpick us about the little things. I personally think they want us off the road. We do this all day long we’re professionals at this, you shouldn't punish us. The best way to get away with murder in NYC is get in a car and run them over; nothing will ever be done about it. It feels like they're discriminating against us, they want us separated from certain areas — making it seem like we did something wrong when we never did."
Christian (declined to give a last name)
"When I first started working out here I had a cop jump in front of my way and he literally snatched me off my bike and I fell — because supposedly I had no bell. When he wrote me the ticket he never wrote exactly where the incident happened so I knew for a fact if I was going to go to court they'd throw it away, and I went to court and they threw it away. You wasted 20 minutes of my day when you could have been arresting someone out there trying to kill somebody or something.
"Usually cops look at me and don't usually say anything, but two or three days out of the week, you'll get that one cop that'll stop you and say, 'Oh, you don't have a bell, or you don't have a brake.' None of that really matters, to get people's attention I usually yell. When cops stop us, it's just unnecessary because we're all out here working. We're all out here trying to get paid."
"It's great, the initiative with the bike lanes and everything but people don't respect it. ... They're doing things to make it better, but it seems whenever there's an incident, a cyclist gets hurt or killed, they crackdown on the cyclist more than pedestrians or drivers and it's kind of confusing.
"I don't understand how they can confiscate a person's bike if you're not actually riding the bike if you're just in the park. (Police) kind of corridor some of the bike lanes and will pull people over for no brakes, no bell, and even try to give people tickets for no helmet, which anyone over 14 in New York State doesn't require a helmet. Some people don't know the law. Confiscating bikes for not having bells is just like the lowest you can go. Some people have actually been knocked off bikes while riding by police officers and that's like jeopardizing their health. It's definitely a form of stop and frisk. I think the city is just desperate in looking for any way to get money to make collars and make it look like they are doing a good job. We're all out here just trying to make a living. It's kind of screwed up."
"A few months ago an elderly gentleman [cyclist Chaim Joseph] was run over and killed and they were ticketing there and there were multiple complains that they were being more aggressive with the cyclists of color. There was actually a photograph of cops tackling a man off his bike. It’s a very diverse community; those that are Caucasian in the community, they recognize it, too, that they have a little bit of a privilege over someone of a person of color like myself. Bike messengers and cyclists of color, it’s like a double whammy for them.
"Usually when cyclists are hit by vehicles, there’s usually no charges. To let them go scot-free, it’s a slap in the face to cyclists. Basically saying you're an afterthought and if anything happens to you no one’s gonna be held accountable. I find that extremely disgusting. A lot of officers and people in general kind of look down on bike messengers in particular just cause like we’re avid cyclists, we’re more in tune with biking in a city like this. In a city like this, you have to bike a little aggressively because the drivers around you are crazy at times, they are extremely aggressive. They’re surrounded by two-ton vehicles with air bags we’re just on 20-30 pound bike frames. "
"I find that I'm pulled over a lot faster than most commuters. It's just pretty frustrating we're targeted while we're trying to make some money. You'll see commuters on Citi Bikes, cops don't really mess with them at all and I find that funny because a lot of them don't really know how to ride bikes. It's their way to search us. They stopped stop-and-frisk, but now they say, 'You don't have a bell on your bike, so we have reason to go through your stuff.' You don't really see that much on non-minority cyclists, it's fucked up to say but it's true.
"If you're gonna pick on cyclists you have to pick on cyclists all around; you can't just find a small demographic and target them — they got to find a way to make money off us. I'm pretty sure they think there's a lot of drugs within urban cycling and like what we do. But you get people who come here from all over, they just want to be a part of this culture and I don't think they've taken the time to understand what the actual urban cycling culture is and the small community we have."
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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