Stop the presses! And blame the bikers!

Today’s Streetsblog picks up the story of the Seattle Critical Mass incident we discussed yesterday. And zooms right in on the fact that there are two sides to this story — except where the police and local press are concerned.

Now, I should mention right up front that I’m no fan of Critical Mass. I understand, and share, many of the philosophies expressed by CM riders, and there are riders whose opinions I respect who are active participants.

I simply think it’s counterproductive.

At a time when we’re struggling to get the respect and courtesy we deserve, CM reinforces the attitudes that many drivers already have — that cyclists are aggressive, arrogant, rude and inconsiderate, and have no respect for other users of the road. Let alone the law.

However, the blogosphere has been active in the wake of the Seattle incident, so I’ll let other writers address the questions of whether CM is right or wrong, and how — or whether — it can be fixed.

For me, the more interesting topic is the fact that, as the Streetsblog article points out, the local authorities and press immediately went into the standard blame bikers first mode. Instead of listening to the many bikers who said the driver was angry and aggressive and instigated the incident, they immediately assumed that he was the innocent victim. Or at the very least, justified in his actions.

Like the Colorado sheriff who decided the problem was bikers who ride two abreast, rather than careless and impatient drivers who can’t be bothered to pass them safely — even on nearly empty back country roads — the bias of law enforcement is almost always that the rider is at fault.

The simple fact is, if there is an accident, the police will assume that the rider did something to cause it, unless there is clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, as in the Mandeville Canyon brake check. And in most cases, even if the rider was blameless, the press will jump in with stories about riders who run red lights and flaunt traffic laws.

If we report a road rage incident, the police investigate it as a simple traffic altercation, rather than a violent crime — as they did when I was the victim of road rage, and ended up being threatened with arrest myself. If someone runs us off the road, it’s blamed on a momentarily distracted driver who just didn’t see us. If we report a driver or passenger throwing something at us, they call it littering. If they bother to call it anything at all.

Even in the well-publicized New York police v. CM rider case, it was the rider who spend 26 hours in jail, rather than the cop who assaulted him.

So unless and until the police — and the press that keeps them honest — stop automatically blaming the victim whenever cyclists and cars collide, and start treating assaults against cyclists as the violent crimes they are, we will never experience the equal protection we are guaranteed under the constitution.

And we will never be safe on the streets.

And let’s face it. It’s a dangerous world out there.

 

Today’s reads: The Mountaineerzz take to the hills, where the only traffic they have to worry about should be hikers and mountain lions. LAist has security video from inside a San Dimas bike shop when the Moderate One hit. (Just out of curiosity, was anyone out there riding during the quake? What was that like?) Bicycle Fixation discusses the potholes on the way to turning 4th St. into a bicycle boulevard. And finally, we have an update on the events that followed the good doctor’s brake check — who last I heard, was due for arraignment on Friday.

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