‘End Legal Murder In NYC’! Hundreds Mourn Cyclist Robyn Hightman in Memorial Ride

This is happening way too often, Mr. Mayor. Photo: Dave Colon
This is happening way too often, Mr. Mayor. Photo: Dave Colon

Hundreds of cyclists gathered in a memorial ride and ghost bike installation for 20-year-old Robyn Hightman, the bike courier who this week became the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019 — and the event fused the sadness, rage, horror and simple confusion of bike riders grappling with why more and more of them are being killed on city streets this year.

Hightman, whom one friend called “an unrelenting force of power and beauty,” was certainly mourned with tears. But cyclists also freely vented at how commonplace road violence has become — now 13 cyclists have been killed this year, up from 10 in all of last year — and how little urgency city officials seem to display about basic safety.

Indeed, Hightman was killed by a truck driver who was not charged for the crash — even though he had initially left the scene.

“I want to end legal murder in NYC,” Jack Drury, a former messenger who still cycles, told Streetsblog. “It is our demand, it is our requirement, it is our need, it is necessary. It is literally legal to murder another human being in New York City so long as you do it with a car.”

Mourners cried and raged at the memorial ride and ghost bike installation for Robyn Hightman, who was killed on Sixth Avenue on Monday. Photo: Dave Colon
Mourners cried and raged at the memorial ride and ghost bike installation for Robyn Hightman, who was killed on Sixth Avenue on Monday. Photo: Dave Colon

Drury was particularly outraged at the treatment police afforded Antonio Garcia, the driver who hit and killed Hightman and then claimed not to have known it even happened. (Hightman preferred the pronouns they/their.)

“A 20-year-old kid killed in broad daylight, not even breaking the law, just going about their day,” Drury said. “This was a person legally operating a bike on legal streets in broad daylight, who was mowed down by a truck and there were literally no consequences.

“And then to have video come out of law enforcement patting him on the back?” Drury added, referring to Streetsblog footage showing the officer consoling the killer, who had initially left the scene of the crash only to return to say he did not know he had hit anyone — a common legal defense that often leads to no charges being filed.

Indeed, no summonses were issued to Garcia for his role in killing Hightman or for leaving the scene.

Current and former messengers also spoke out about the exhaustion that comes with living and cycling in a city that makes their safety an optional piece of road management.

“There’s definitely a strong ‘Fuck it’ attitude among people who think ‘They treat me like my life doesn’t matter so maybe it doesn’t,'” said Camille Raneem, who knew Hightman from racing at the Kissena Velodrome. “But at the end of the day, we know something like this can happen to any of us at any time, and there will be no consequences. And that is the clear message that those of us who are working cyclists have to live with and deal with,” she said.

“We’re sick of the fear, of bike-checking each other when we see the report of an accident, figuring out who’s not answering their phone, who’s missing,” Hightman’s friend Angela Sorensen told Streetsblog before the ride left from Continental Army Plaza. “People are angry because this isn’t the first time we’ve gotten together in this same manner this year, and in disturbingly similar circumstances: a professional messenger and cyclist, experienced in these streets more than anyone else, that is run over with impunity,” Sorensen said, in reference to the death of Aurilla Lawrence, a messenger killed by a hit-and-run driver in Williamsburg earlier this year.

The NYPD has said it had a person of interest offered, but has offered no updates to the case and has made no arrests.

“Everybody’s hurt,” a messenger who gave his name as Robert Mueller, told Streetsblog. “Instead of letting us have time to heal from one loss, we’re getting another loss back-to-back. We expect the city to hold these drivers accountable, and instead of that, they’re getting to go home to their family. And what I want to ask is if god forbid we harm one of the drivers, do I get a hug and a pat on the shoulder and they let me go home to my family? No.”

A messenger who gave the name Robert Mueller sent a message to Mayor de Blasio. Photo: Dave Colon
A messenger who gave the name Robert Mueller sent a message to Mayor de Blasio. Photo: Dave Colon

He affixed a flier on his bag memorializing Lawrence and Hightman with the message, “If you kill someone with your car, IT IS MURDER.”

Working cyclist Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan on June 24.
Working cyclist Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan on June 24.

“They’re killing us and there’s nothing the city is doing about it. I’m tired of losing my friends,” he added.

The lack of any sense of culpability for drivers was a constant theme of the night for Hightman’s friends and mourners.

“Are people pissed? Yeah, absolutely,” said Rosemary Bolich, who knew Hightman from the city’s track racing scene. “Drivers are not prosecuted when they kill someone. A friend said to me that she can get a ticket of over $150 for running a red light on her bike. And this driver will get away with nothing. I read this driver got five summonses, but none was related to fucking killing someone. I don’t know how we’re in a position where you can kill someone and have no consequences,” Bolich said.

The mourning also carried a sense that messengers were ready to organize and to demand the city take their lives and the lives of all cyclists more seriously.

“If we’re subject to non-stop enforcement, why are our bike lanes always blocked? If we’re expected to use them, at the cost of tickets and police harassment, why are we constantly dodging NYPD cars in the bike lanes?” said one messenger cyclist Michael Paciello. “It’s up to us to make changes. We have this community and we have this power. As individuals we are weak. But when we’re together, we block buses, taxis, cop cars. Together, we can demand action. This city, one of the greatest cities in the world, has constantly failed us in our search to make a living for ourselves, to enjoy bikes, enjoy our friendships, to enjoy our culture.

 

  • Awesome display of solidarity.

  • quenchy

    our condolences and prayers for robyn

    how to get away with murder in nyc? hit anyone with your vehicle and say you didn’t see them

  • Faun Laurel Rosenberg

    “People are angry because this isn’t the first time we’ve gotten together in this same manner this year, and in disturbingly similar circumstances: a professional messenger and cyclist, experienced in these streets more than anyone else, that is run over with impunity,”

    My understanding is that Robyn Hightman had only been in NYC for a few days.

  • mg

    NYC is a hazardous environment for a bike.

  • rapt

    Is this really an important thing to highlight? While Robyn had only been working as a courier in NYC for a short period, they had several years experience as a messenger in another city. Also, Robyn was part of the NYC cycling community long before they lived here and long before they were killed. I think the line is just emphasizing that working cyclists know how to ride in the street.

  • Joe R.

    Right, if something like this could happen to a highly experienced working cyclist, it could happen to anyone. Unfortunately, it seems working cyclists don’t count for much when the city plans infrastructure, even though they would easily be the heaviest users of it in terms of bike-miles.

  • Rex Rocket

    P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

    In a civilized city, the cops would have been on this from the
    instant it happened. They would have closed half of Sixth Ave. to
    allow room for the spontaneous reaction and protest they knew was
    coming that night; they would protect the cyclists from morons in
    cars who, annoyed at the delay, decided to “discuss” it
    with the riders, and had their cars damaged; they would immediately
    set up a liaison to deal with other protest rides. They would also
    alert drivers of truck and cars to be more careful drivers on Sixth,
    and let them know that police are watching them rather than harassing
    and ticketing riders on the same stretch of the avenue. They knew
    this wasn’t just a forgettable “accident”, they knew here
    would be big reactions, and it is their responsibility to keep things
    orderly and do a better job of protecting a segment, a growing
    segment, of the population. (Too bad there’s no elected authority in
    charge of the city who could negotiate something like in future
    situations.

  • Too bad there’s no elected authority in
    charge of the city who could negotiate something like in future
    situations.

    The military junta that runs the City deems the elected government irrelevant.

  • there are no words …. the NYPD is not accountable to anyone. But we must change our laws . This is a manslaughter. We need to create the charge of DWD driving while distracted , and any person who kills another one in the streets has to be taken to the precinct.

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  • GinaS13

    It’s true. There is no repercussions for killing someone if you say “I didn’t see them”. Legally you are supposed to be driving slow enough to stop if the person before you stops short. If you hit them you are liable. In New York, though, it is no fault. Sometimes, it is true that the person hit was not following the laws but it should not always be a given. The laws need to change and punishment must be used as a deterrent. A small fine does not encourage people to take driving safely more seriously.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Since Mssrs. Hightman used a plural pronoun for self-reference, could we argue that multiple people were killed, thereby raising the stakes for prosecution?

    ““If you kill someone with your car, IT IS MURDER.”
    Perhaps Robert Mueller could use a five-minute brush-up on legal definition of homicide before making this assertion. With such legal knowledge, who knows how much more effectively his report would have made the case for impeachment?

  • Shea

    “They” has been used as a singular pronoun for literally hundreds of years: https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

    The fact that you’re an asshole doesn’t make your legal knowledge any better than your linguistic knowledge, apparently: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/vehicular_homicide

  • Lauren Bertrand

    “Ain’t” has been around for hundreds of years too; that doesn’t make it correct. Using “they” as a singular has always been grammatically incorrect. The correct pronoun would be “it” (singular neutral).

    While I’m definitely an a—–e, I think people who intimidate other people into using incorrect pronouns are bullies. I don’t capitulate to bullies.

    As for the legal aspect, you don’t disprove my point. The link which you provide shows “vehicular manslaughter”–i.e., not murder. If I need to explain the difference between “manslaughter” and “murder” (or the more generic “homicide”), that is at least understandable, since it’s a bit more complicated than the difference between “she” and “they”.

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