Is a ghost bike appropriate for a teenage gun shot victim?

When I lived down south, I had a great apartment in a park-like 1920s neighborhood that was the envy of all my friends.

The only problem was — and the reason I could afford it — it was right next to one of the worst high-crime neighborhoods in town. One that I had to ride through if I was going to get anywhere.

I never thought much about though, until one night when I was on my way home from a late-evening ride and found myself stopped at a red light, well after dark.

A small group of men were gathered on the corner. And sure enough, as I waited for the light to change, four or five of them started walking towards me, looking very unfriendly despite their broad smiles.

“Nice bike, man.”

“I bet I’d look good on that bike.”

“Maybe you should let me ride it.”

Fortunately, right about then, the traffic cleared. And I took off on a sprint that would have won most stages of the Tour de France.

Later, when I discussed it with a friend of mine on the local police force, he suggested that in the future I should just run all the red lights and stop signs in that neighborhood. “There’s not a cop in the world that would give you a ticket for that,” he said.

Somehow, I have a feeling the LAPD might disagree.

I was reminded of that this evening when I read this post from Will Campbell.

It seems he was stopped at a red light at National and Venice, when a beat-up car blaring rap music pulled up on his left.

“That’s a nice bike, ” says the passenger to me over the lyrics that are mainly muthafuckin this and the muthafuckin that.

At face value that may seem a nice thing to say. But more often than not, such a statement is not a nice thing. More often than not, such a statement is not a compliment. More often than not it is not paid by a Century City lawyer or a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, but rather by some covetous lowlife, and it translates roughly into “I want your bike.” It’s a statement in the form of a demand along the converse lines that  “Where you from?” is a demand in the form of a statement. In short, it’s mostly rhetorical and arrives carrying a lot of baggage.

I give him a glance to find him presenting a general demeanor that would qualify as a definite lowlife. The hairs on my arms rise.

“Thanks!” I say too cheerily and I watch him looking over 8Ball like it’s another guy’s girl that he wants to get to know better 10 minutes ago. Looking away and ignoring him might have been the better tactic, But I didn’t employ it.

“What’ll you give me for it?” I ask and he takes his eyes off the bike and puts them on me and sits up a bit.

“How ’bout a beating?”

Fortunately, after a tense stare-down, both men in the car started laughing. “Nah, man. I’m just fuckin’ witcha,” he said, before driving off.

But it brings up yet another risk cyclists face on the streets.

Unlike drivers, who can lock their doors and roll up their windows — yet still risk getting jacked — cyclists are exposed and vulnerable to whoever might be passing by at any given moment. And we’ve got something worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars tucked between our legs, as well as wallets, cell phones and iPods in many cases.

Most of the time, it’s not a problem.

You keep your eyes open, and try to avoid certain streets and circumstances, especially after dark. Just like you would if you were on foot.

But things can happen. And you never know when you could find yourself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.

Like the mini crime-wave that stuck the Ballona Creek bikeway a couple years ago, prompting cyclists to reclaim the bike path. Or the female rider struck in the face with a baseball bat in a robbery attempt, or the two cyclists shot and wounded in separate incidents on the same night last year.

And it’s not just limited to L.A. Clearly, it can happen anywhere.

And does.

Then there’s this tragic incident that occurred yesterday in Paicoma, in which two teenage cyclists with no apparent gang ties were shot in an attack police believe was gang related — evidently, simply because they were riding their bikes in the wrong place at the wrong time.

According to the LAPD blog,

On March 8, 2010 at around 6:44 p.m., officers from the Foothill Division responded to a radio call of an “Ambulance Shooting” on the 11200 block of Dronefield Avenue in Pacoima.  When officers arrived they found two male juveniles suffering from gunshot wounds.  The victims were 15 and 16-years-old, their names are being withheld.  Both victims were transported to a local hospital where the 15-year-old died from his wounds.  The 16-year-old was treated and remains hospitalized in stable condition.

A subsequent investigation determined that the victims were riding bicycles on Dronefield Avenue when a black vehicle, unknown make or model approached. An unknown male Hispanic suspect in the vehicle fired several rounds striking the victims multiple times.  This case is believed to be gang related, but neither victim has apparent gang ties.  There is no additional suspect information and the weapon is still outstanding.

Police ask anyone with information to call LAPD’s Foothill Homicide Detectives Gahry or Martinez at 818-834-3115.

We live with violence in our city by telling ourselves it doesn’t affect us, and can’t happen here.

But this young man was someone’s son.

He lived in this city.

And he died as one of us.


  1. Herbie Huff says:

    Your post leaves me pondering the issue of who we consider “us” and who we consider “them.” Consider Will’s assumption that he shouldn’t trust the motorists who complimented his bike. I get it; I’ve made this assumption, too. But the details he gives for why he made it smack of stereotyping and prejudice. The car is cheap. The music is rap. Without much evidence, the stranger is suddenly a “covetous lowlife.” Now one thing I know for sure is that cheap cars and certain music genres don’t make a thief. But they do make a thug, in mainstream society’s general racialized portrayal of one. Will assumed ill intent based on stereotypes about what marks a criminal, and those stereotypes (black music, cheap cars) are racist and classist.

    So maybe your post really tells us that we need to question our assumptions about who to trust and who not to trust. Who to include and who not to include. And I’m willing to bet that those same stereotypes wouldn’t favor the victim cyclists in Pacoima.

    Your post ends by claiming the dead 15-year-old as “one of us.”

    I want that – I want solidarity among all cyclists. So I think first we’re going to have to disrupt our snap judgements and include cyclists who might listen to rap and might not be Beverly Hills plastic surgeons or Century City lawyers.

    • bikinginla says:

      You make a good point, Herbie. However, knowing Will, I think he’s the last person who would judge someone based on class or race.

      Having been in the same situation more than once, it’s just a feeling you get. You can stop next to 100 cars that match the same description as the one in his case with no concern, but there’s just something about the next one that says you’re in danger.

      In Will’s case, that was born out by the “joke” about giving him a beating. I suspect what really happened was that they sized up him, realized that Will doesn’t back down, and decided to move on.

      But the question remains, who do you trust? Some of the scariest looking people I’ve ever met have turned out to be among the nicest and went out of their way to help me. And two young men I’b been laughing and joking with moments earlier robbed me at gun point and argued between themselves whether they should kill me just to see what it felt like; fortunately, the relatively saner of the two won.

  2. Digital Dame says:

    Some of the guys I know who are cyclists have a really hard time understanding why I am reluctant to ride when it’s dark outside. They just don’t get it, because they were not brought to think the way women do in this society, that we are always at risk of being assaulted and to put ourselves in a situation such as being alone on a dark road on a bike is asking for trouble. We carry our car keys in our hand all the way through the parking lot because we don’t want to have to take those extra 10 or 20 seconds to rummage through a purse standing next to our car. In those seconds, we are taught, we could be abducted. And we learn how to use those keys as a weapon, should we need to.

    I understand Will’s point very well, and I think it’s being naive to assume someone who pulls up next to you at a light and makes comments intends anything but ill towards you. I would have been just as creeped out had they been white. Seriously, how many people have EVER stopped and paid you a compliment while you were on your bike?

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