NYPD Harassment: Five Cyclists in Their Own Words

montage cyclists

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:

Many Mahecha

“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.’

Many Mahecha
Many Mahecha

“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.

Christian
Christian

“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.”

Cory Bullock

“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.

Cory Bullock
Cory Bullock

“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.” 

Omar Perez 

“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.

Omar Perez
Omar Perez

“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. “

Shardy Nieves 

“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.

Shardy Nieves
Shardy Nieves

“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.”

  • Sassojr

    Seems like we need another broad reform of the NYPD’s policing tactics. Again I point out motorcyclists are also subject to the same prejudiced policing tactics… Rather than having Motorcycle Only Checkpoints where only law abiding riders stop, we should have Commercial Vehicle Only Checkpoints which would do a lot more for EVERYONE’S safety.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They start by riding bikes.
    Next thing they are using drugs.
    Then it’s muggings to support their habit, followed by rapes and shootings.
    And finally, if it isn’t nipped in the bud, WE LOSE PARKING SPACES!

  • AstoriaBlowin

    well you can think of it as progress, the NYPD is just arbitrarily confiscating their bikes instead of beating the hell out of these guys with no justification.

  • I’m going to get me a bell. I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk getting my ride confiscated over this retarded shit. It’s going to be the shittiest weakest most broke down bell I can find. And I will laugh as I ride away from one of these pathetic little sting operations.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I’m sorry. I’m white and they harass me all the time. They harrass white people all over the place on bikes because giving easy tickets is what they love more than anything. it’s not racial. 5th avenue in park slope is crazy white people ticket frenzy paradise for cops

  • djx

    Race is part of it.

    I believe that you are getting what you describe, and that isn’t right.

    Plus NYPD definitely doesn’t care who gets hit by drivers.

    But if you’re young and brown (or old and yellow sometimes), it’s worse.

  • Exactly right. A cyclist can be harassed by police, yet still benefit from white privilege.

    My only ticket came a week after the killing of Mathieu Lefevre in 2011, and at the very same location of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street. I came to a stop at the red light on southbound Morgan, and then I walked my bike through the light. I was straddling the bike; but I was moving by walking, not by pedalling.

    A police car came out immediately; and the officers inside told me to pull over. The cop who got out of the car mentioned the Lefevre incident. I then asked him if I could say something, and he said yes, whereupon I mentioned how outrageous it was that they were out there stopping the potential victims of vehicular violence rather than the potential perpetrators.

    Even as that interaction was happening, I realised that it was a textbook example of white privilege. While I was very annoyed, I did not fear being beaten or shot by the cop. The officer did not act like a bully towards me; he even apologised as he wrote the ticket, telling me that his partner, an older guy who stayed in the car, required him to do it. That kind of politeness would be inconceivable with a black bicyclist. And a black bicyclist would surely have known better than to even ask if he could say something.

    Ticketing a bicyclist for walking his bike through a red light definitely counts as harassment. But, while the NYPD clearly has contempt for bicyclists, a white bicyclist is always going to fare a lot better in police interactions than a black or brown bicyclist would. We must remember that white privilege is not something that comes up only once in a while; it is something that white people benefit from during every moment of their lives.

  • Joe R.

    I had a similar interaction the one time I got a ticket (for sidewalk cycling). The officer was sorry but said he had to do it because his sergeant was in the car.

    That said, I still avoid interactions with the police. Ever since that ticket, if I see a police car a few blocks ahead sitting on the side, I just turn off the street to avoid it. Maybe they’re just getting donuts, maybe they’ll bust me on some nonsense charge like not having a bell. Either way, I’d rather ride a few extra blocks.

    Then there were two other times the police did try to stop me, for what I don’t know. I got away both times. 🙂

  • Joe R.

    I’m white and I’ll still avoid interactions with the police. Ever since I got a sidewalk cycling ticket in 1999, if I see a police car a few blocks ahead sitting on the side, I just turn off the street to avoid it. Maybe they’re just getting donuts, maybe they’ll bust me on some nonsense charge like not having a bell to make their monthly quota. Either way, I’d rather ride a few extra blocks.

  • William Lawson

    I’m white and when I was deliberately run over by a motorist who even admitted it was deliberate to cops, they arrested ME for criminal damage to the psycho’s car despite protests from multiple witnesses that I did nothing wrong, and then they falsified their arrest report & criminal report to cover their asses for such a bogus arrest, and then the DA refused to charge the driver with anything. Still waiting for my white privilege to kick in to sort out that garbage.

  • Wman

    That’s a ridiculous argument and you know it. Stop being a jerk.

  • William Lawson

    It wasn’t an argument it was a statement of fact, but keep calling people jerks for absolutely no reason whatsoever if that’s your thing.

  • SBDriver

    Get a regular bell and mount it someplace odd like near the gears. Still technically legal.

  • Free!

    Yep. Putting a bell on my seatpost.

  • bluesriot

    let’s face it , we know they think they are ny’s finest, they believe the hype, bur the reality is they pretty much are screwed up head jobs, ego and power tripping, brown nosing the higher ups, angry, and sadistic

  • Saundra

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  • manny

    in southslope and greenwood heights the bike are riding on the sidewalk
    and the no one does anything about it, they are delivery boys from 5
    avenue 22nd st and 23 street why are they breaking the laws

  • qatzelok

    Car companies basically set the agenda by sponsoring all the media products we love. For all those “free” entertainment products, we are left with a really fucked up mentality of harrasing cyclists, while drivers purchase bigger and more dangerous SUVs every year. Our denial is ugly.

  • qrt145

    I agree that the bell enforcement is stupid, but if you get stopped repeatedly for not having a bell, have you thought about… getting a bell? It is the law, and unlike some of the other laws against cyclists, this one doesn’t really affect anything other than possibly your aesthetic sensibilities.

  • David P.

    The problem here is a structural one, not an individual one. An individual can put a bell on their bike and they will presumably not get harassed by the NYPD for not having a bell. But the problem originates with the NYPD’s attitudes towards minority populations and cyclists, not with bells. It is, or should not be, up to individuals to take actions on their own part to solve structural or behavioral problems that do not originate with them.

  • qrt145

    Right, but if an individual has been harassed multiple times for not having a bell, why doesn’t he or she add a bell? Is this deliberate civil disobedience? Maybe I’m selfish, but I’d rather add a bell than pick such a fight.

  • PDiddy

    I think you’re missing the point. Laws should make sense. And enforcing laws that make no sense means there is an ulterior motive.

    This is not about making cyclists safer. This is about sending a message. That cyclists do not have rights or deserve respect.

  • qrt145

    I’m a cyclist too and I have been stopped and given what I would consider nonsensical tickets, for running a red light at a T intersection where it didn’t affect any other road users in the slightest. Despite this, I still run red lights sometimes, because, let’s admit it, I benefit. But I have a bell, even though I think it’s nearly useless for its ostensible purpose. I have it because it can help prevent getting _some_ stupid tickets, at a cost of $2. Hence my question. Yes, I know that sometimes you can get harassed even if you are acting 100% legally, but why give them an excuse by riding a non-compliant bike for no discernible benefit? At least e-bikes have the benefit of being faster and easier, despite being illegal, but bell-less bikes? You are right; I just don’t get it.

  • p_chazz

    Maybe it’s a stupid law and it should be repealed?

  • p_chazz

    Police are nothing more than a gang that operates under color of authority. The police act that way because they can. They would much rather pick on skinny bicyclists who won’t put up a fight than actually do their jobs and go after crime. They might get hurt doing that! That’s because police are essentially cowards. They need guns, body armor, tasers, etc. to make them feel important and to demonstrate that they are in charge of the situation.

  • qrt145

    I totally agree! But I also think it is a bit of a stupid fight. Getting tickets on purpose (by refusing to put a bell on your bike) in an attempt to highlight the stupidity of the law is not quite on the same league as Rosa Parks or MLK. I don’t think the bike bell law is unjust, it is just stupid.

  • PDiddy

    You’ve seen the scientific study how people in cars view people on a bicycle as “sub-human” right? That type of outlook on bicycle subculture is also inside of NYPD. They will find any reason to harass cyclists. If it’s not “having a bell”, it’ll be something else. Or enforcement of non laws like riding without a helmet.

    NYC and NYPD need to make cycling easier, not harder and sting operations like this make the most avid communities less likely to cycle.

    The amount of danger a cyclist has on the streets is non-existent. The streets are overcrowded with cars and every person who pilots a 2 ton vehicle is an executioner waiting to release the guillotine on the next unfortunate person.

  • Julisa Cordero

    @Wman The only ridiculous argument I see here is you calling someone’s personal experience a ridiculous argument, and then accusing them of being a jerk.

  • Julisa Cordero

    Next time they pull you over, just keep repeating over & over again, “What I did? What I did? What I did? What I did? What I did? What I did? What I did?” Even as they attempt to explain it to you. “What I did?” “What I did?” “What I did?” See if your white privilege matters a rat’s you-know-what.

  • Julisa Cordero

    This is proof that you and many others want to be pulled over and start trouble, escalate situations that should not have even been situations to begin with, and maybe get a payday from the city. You’ve just advised someone to hide their bell so the police will wrongly pull them over. So what is your goal if it’s not a peaceful ride?

  • Ivan torres

    I think Diblasio dropped the ball on this one. I remember when it was illegal to ride a bike without a helmet in NYC and they targeted minorities who were given criminal tickets for that. God forbid you missed your hearing,there would be a warrant for your arrest and put in the system,I mean finger printed,DNA and retina.Then Citi bikes came out and all of a sudden it was safe to ride a bike without a helmet and who are the ones paying to ride a Citi bike? Yes,non minorities. I think that the fact the organizer’s name was Nieves and the bikers were mostly minorities played a big roll on the decision for the crackdown.
    Don’t sugarcoat the obviousness.

  • Andrew

    I remember when it was illegal to ride a bike without a helmet in NYC

    When was it illegal for cyclists over the age of 14 to ride a bike without a helmet in New York (State or City)?

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