City Streets Keep Getting Meaner For Bicyclists
Last Friday, 20-year-old D’Paris Williams was told by undercover police officers not to ride his bike on the sidewalk outside Valencia Gardens, a public housing complex in San Francisco’s Mission District. As San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told ABC7, while Williams “was being cited, he walked toward his apartment” after which police grabbed him by the shoulder and Williams “then bit one of the officers.” Police said that things then “escalated to the point where he was trying to resist arrest.”
Williams has now been booked on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and riding his bike on a sidewalk. But Williams’ cousin, Selena Rodriguez, tells ABC7 that “he had his headphones on and hoody on, so he didn’t hear them.” His sister, Christina Williams, tells SFGate that her brother “was just coming in the house” and “had to bring the bike on the sidewalk to come into the house.”
Williams’ having his bike on the sidewalk apparently triggered the exchange between him and the police. It’s just one of more than a few recent incidents casting a harsh light on the hazards — from traffic to legal issues — for bicyclists in urban areas.
What Really Happened at Valencia Gardens Last Friday?
Besides Williams, three other residents were arrested and injured; five police officers were injured. A cellphone video posted on YouTube shows a plainclothes officer apparently assaulting a man before, his face bloodied, he is placed in a patrol car.
The San Francisco Police Department is now being accused of brutality. Police allege that they used “reasonable force”; speaking on behalf of the officers, police chief Suhr says that officers were asking themselves, “‘does this person have a gun? Is the bicycle stolen? Is the person up to something else?’”
Residents demonstrated last Tuesday to protest and continue to protest the police’s actions. As Yvonne Quintana, Williams’ aunt, says to ABC7, “he’s upset about what happened. I mean, to me, he was profiled. Whether police think what they did was wrong or not, it was wrong.”
More Bicyclists Have Died in London This Year Than Troops in Afghanistan
Whatever the reason Williams had his bicycle on the sidewalk, in some urban areas that might have been the safest option. Even as cities promote the use of bicycles to cut down on pollution and congestion, authorities have not yet figured out how to best manage traffic on streets that can now include bicyclists in addition to cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles.
In London, more bicyclists have died this year than have soldiers in Afghanistan. In just the past two weeks, six people have died while riding bikes on London.
Boris Johnson, the city’s mayor, is himself a bicyclist; he started a public rental program for what have come to be known as “Boris’ bikes” and has called for the building of bike “superhighways” in London. But Johson’s response to the recent fatalities of bicyclists has been underwhelming to say the least. Amid calls to ban large trucks from sone of London’s busiest roads during busy times of the day, Johnson has suggested a ban on headphones and criticized bicyclists for not respecting traffic rules.
“For those in charge of London transport to suggest publicly and before investigations have been carried out that any of those killed in the last fortnight were in any way responsible for their own deaths is unforgivable,” Susanna Rustin writes in The Guardian. She notes that there is a a repeated tendency to make “victims responsible for their own susceptibility”; to presume that the “poor bloke killed on his bike last week was an idiot.”
There is indeed. It’s the very same “blame the victim” way of thinking that assumes that a young male wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a bike on the sidewalk has to be acting suspiciously, when all that he was doing was heading towards his own front door.
Photo from Thinkstock