NYPD Targets Black and Brown Cyclists For Biking On The Sidewalk 

Photo: Julianne Cuba
Photo: Julianne Cuba

Biking while Black is still a thing in New York City.

Police issued 440 tickets for biking on the sidewalk in 2018 and 2019, and 374 of those where race was listed — or 86.4 percent — went to Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, according to the city’s own data crunched by Streetsblog. The number of tickets issued to Black and Hispanic bikers is wildly disproportionate, given that they comprise only 49 percent of cyclists, according to the Department of Transportation.

During the same 24 months, police issued white cyclists just 39 tickets for riding on the sidewalk — only 9 percent of the total number of tickets where race was indicated. The DOT says white cyclists comprise 40 percent of all bikers in the city.

The specific breakdown between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2019, was:

  • Black people got 230 tickets, 0r 53 percent of the biking on the sidewalk tickets where race was listed.
  • People listed by cops as Hispanic got 144 tickets, or 33 percent.
  • People listed by cops as Asian or Pacific Islander got 16 tickets, or 3.6 percent.

Black men made up the largest chunk of all summonses issued, receiving 223 — or 51 percent — of the 433 tickets where race was listed. It’s yet another example of discriminatory policing against people of color in public space that puts Black men in more danger than it does create safe bike routes, said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Joe Cutrufo.

And of the 374 tickets that went to Black and Latino bikers, 179 — or 47.8 percent — went to people 24-years-old or younger, according to the data.

“If people are riding bikes on the sidewalk, it’s because there’s no safe place to ride in the street. Handing out tickets doesn’t build protected bike lanes,” said Cutrufo. “Our resources would be so much better spent on designing and building safe streets, not harassing Black men for trying to get from A to B safely.”

White women received just three tickets out of the total 440, according to the data (there are just seven summonses for which police did not list race).

The stats follow a 2014 Streetsblog report, which revealed that of the 15 neighborhoods where police handed out the most summonses for cycling on the sidewalk, 12 were mostly Black or Latino. And they come after Transportation Alternatives issued a new report calling on the de Blasio administration to remove the NYPD from its disproportionately large oversight of traffic enforcement in the city to make streets safer from crashes, but also protect people of color from the cops themselves.

The report argues that protected bike lanes not only reduce crashes, but also reduce the need for police involvement, by facilitating as much as a 94-percent drop in cycling on the sidewalk.

But the disproportionation number of summonses issued to people of color for biking on the sidewalk is still even slightly less than the percentage of tickets given to Black and Hispanic New Yorkers for jaywalking — Streetsblog reported last month that cops issued 99 percent of jaywalking tickets to Black and Hispanic people in the first quarter of this year, following similar numbers in 2019.

And in addition to cyclists of color being at greater risk for physical violence by police during such stops, disproportionately ticketing Black and Latino riders for low-level non-violent offenses poses a financial burden on those communities.

“The NYPD always criminalizes Black people at higher rates for just about every thing imaginable. For low level community issues, Black and Latinx people are targeted, ticketed, arrested and put through the system at unconscionable disproportionate rates,” said Anne Oredeko, supervising attorney of the Racial Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “All of these actions have a real financial toll on the individual and when done on the scale that the NYPD does it, it literally steals wealth out of Black and Latinx communities. The financial cost of the NYPD’s racist criminal enforcement in communities of color reinforces the structural oppression, racism, and economic injustice that poor Black and Latinx people face everyday.”

Oredeko went on to demand change — not just through reforms, but by defunding the NYPD and reallocating that money into communities of color.

“No matter the reform measures implemented that has not changed,” she added. “The NYPD needs to be defunded and poor Black communities and other communities of color need those financial resources to be pumped back into them. Especially since through racially discriminatory enforcement like this, for decades, the NYPD has continued to steal financial resources from Black and Latinx communities.”

The stats are not shocking to Black bikers who experience the targeted enforcement first hand, and not just as one number in a data set. Last year, five cyclists of color shared their stories of police harassment with Streetsblog, and this year, hundreds of cyclists are taking to the streets in protest against police brutality — rides that also showcase the most basic levels of racism in the form of infrastructure neglect in lower-income communities of color.

“Our last ride we went through Bushwick and certain parts of Ridgewood and every block it was like, ‘Everybody ride slow’ because there were excessive potholes and glass in the street. Once we got to Dumbo it was just smooth sailing. We try to show that in our bike protest,” said Orlando Hamilton, who founded Street Riders, a new group that organizes protest rides in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Where my mom lives in Bed-Stuy off Eastern Parkway, there’s no bike lanes. It’s not even nice roads, as soon as you go over to Williamsburg or Boerum Hill and Clinton Hill, the streets are smooth. It’s so obvious and blatant. They give six billion dollars to the NYPD, so I’m pretty sure we can spare a couple million to just give us a smooth street to ride on.”

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment, but a police spokesman previously told Streetsblog in response to jaywalking tickets that there is no racial bias.

“NYPD officers have discretion,” said the spokesman, Al Baker. “Officers enforce jaywalking if a specific condition exists, at that moment, that would require that enforcement action without consideration of race or ethnicity.

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We’ve got a new installment in Streetsblog’s hotly-anticipated Sidewalk Biking Ticket Index, which compares the number of sidewalk biking summonses issued by NYPD to the number of speeding tickets issued by local precincts. In a reversal from 2012, NYPD last year issued more tickets for speeding on local streets than criminal charges for riding a bicycle on […]