Tag Archive for blame bikers first

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.

Blameless victims? Or two-wheeled vigilantes?

Now Seattle is up in arms over a road rage incident involving bicyclists. And once again, it’s the cyclists who are being painted as the bad guys.

According to news initial reports, last Friday’s Critical Mass turned violent when a group of cyclists attacked a driver. As these reports put it, the frightened driver tried to back up, hit a couple of bikes, then got scared and tried to drive away. The bikers chased him down, slashed his tires, smashed his windows and hit him with a bike lock, sending the frightened driver to the hospital with a head injury.

Of course, once the initial hyperventilating news reports aired, a more nuanced picture began to take shape as the real reporters — as opposed to the pretty heads on TV — filed their stories, suggesting that there might actually be two sides to this event. According to these accounts, the driver became angry and/or scared, as the riders may or may not have threatened to tip his car with him and his passenger in it. Then he tried to drive off, dragging injured cyclists with him, until he was chased down by bikers who forced him to stop.

And unfortunately, turned violent in retaliation.

As usually happens these days, though, the full picture only took shape online, as the local bloggers began giving first, or at least second, person reports.

Ryan provides the riders’ perspective, describing how his first CM went painfully wrong, as the driver tried to escape his corkage by accelerating through the riders in front of him, running over one cyclist as another held on for dear life. Even with a cyclist clinging to the hood of his car, the driver gave no sign of stopping, so the riders chased him down and forced him to stop.

Then the police — and reporters — took the standard approach and blamed bikers first. Apparently, both had already decided the driver was the victim, and neither seemed to have any interest in the bikers’ side of the story.

Meanwhile, Jonah talks with the driver himself, painting a very different picture of a frightened — and sympathetic — man, who felt intimidated by all rampaging cyclists who surrounded his car, and by his account, threatened him. He responded by revving his engine in an attempt to get the riders to back off, not realizing his car was in gear. It lurched forward and inadvertently struck a couple of cyclists.

He says the other bikers responded by trying to hit him or clinging to his car, so he began to speed off, then stopped when he heard someone say a rider was hurt. When he got out of his car to apologize, the riders attacked him and his car.

So who’s right — or more to the point in this case, who’s wrong?


Intentionally or not, frightened or not, the driver struck and injured at least two riders in an ill-advised attempt to escape corking.

The police and press — as usual — leapt to the assumption that the cyclists were at fault, and weren’t about to let the facts get in the way.

And — ignoring any questions about the propriety and effectiveness of Critical Mass and corking tactics — the cyclists were wrong for retaliating against the driver, however justified they may have felt at the time. Once the driver struck the cyclists, they should have simply taken down his license or taken a picture (I keep my camera phone in reach when I ride for exactly that reason) and reported it to the police. Then it would have been a clear case of hit-and-run, the cyclists, rather than the driver, would be seen as the victims, and both the police and press might have been a little more sympathetic.

Instead, everyone loses. Especially the biking community.

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