‘End Legal Murder In NYC’! Hundreds Mourn Cyclist Robyn Hightman in Memorial Ride
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.”
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.
6 Ave was reduced to 2 lanes of general traffic, for the vigil for Robyn Hightman, and hey, I don't think Manhattan imploded or burned to the ground. What if 6 Ave always had only 2 lanes of general traffic, and that extra space went to buses and sidewalk/bike lane expansions? pic.twitter.com/P7Qyt2q8CH
— Bike Commuter NYC (@driversofnyc) June 28, 2019
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.”
He affixed a flier on his bag memorializing Lawrence and Hightman with the message, “If you kill someone with your car, IT IS MURDER.”
“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.