Maybe you remember a couple weeks ago when the internet blew up over a bike-hating video from a woman who was quickly identified as a reserve Santa Paula police officer.
Even though, as it turned out, Laura Weintraub was only peripherally associated with the department, helping out around the office a few hours a week. She was never a patrol officer, and never in a position to enforce the law, fairly or otherwise.
And the bike-friendly department she barely worked for got an undeserved black eye based on the comments of someone who should have known better.
It wasn’t like the anger we all felt wasn’t justified.
Weintraub’s failed attempt at humor fell into a long list of shock jocks, newspaper columnists, comedians, online commenters and just plain anti-social jerks who can’t seem to understand that bike riders have as much a right to the road as they do.
And that we’re all just people trying to get from here to there in one piece.
They somehow seem to think the idea of running us over or off the road is outrageously funny. And fail to grasp the concept that a simple tap that would be nothing more than a fender bender between cars could result in serious injury — or worse — if it was with a cyclist, instead.
I was as outraged as anyone.
Yet somehow felt that in our anger, we were missing out on a teachable moment. One that could allow us to reach out to the Santa Paula police, and maybe even drivers like Weintraub herself, to educate them on our rights and how to drive safely around us. And why.
Turns out, a lot of people read that piece.
Including Laura Weintraub.
So I was surprised when I opened my inbox a few days later to find an email from the alleged bike hater herself, asking if we could talk.
When we spoke on the phone a few days later, I found a very caring and contrite young woman who realized she’d made the biggest mistake of her life. And had listened to the angry comments directed her way, and truly got just how and why she was so wrong, and why we were all so upset with her.
A typical motorist, she had never seen us from anything other than a windshield perspective, unaware of our right to the road and the dangers we face on a daily basis from drivers just like her.
She’d never put herself in our position, literally or figuratively, she said.
But she wanted to.
So I agreed to meet with her, and take her on a ride through the relatively quiet streets of Santa Monica and Venice, unwilling to throw a neophyte rider into the deep end on more challenging streets.
Even that brief tour through tame traffic scared her. But somehow, she held her own, remembering the riding tips she’d gotten from me, as well as cycling instructor Stanley Appleman the day before.
She also picked my brain in an attempt to truly understand the dangers we face, and what we can do to make peace on the roads with people like her.
Or at least, like the way she’d been a few weeks before.
She’s changed. She truly gets it.
She’s doing her best to make amends. Not to improve her badly tarnished reputation, but to fix the mistake she made.
And talk to the people out there who might have found the humor in her previously video, and explain to them and other like-minded drivers that we’re all just people, on two wheels or four.
The father of infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, he reportedly rode with a friend every Sunday until that collision. An earlier story from a Chicago paper — which has since disappeared from online — quoted a family cousin as saying he appeared to have been recovering from his injuries before having difficulty breathing on Saturday.
No word on how or where to collision occurred, or just what injuries the 80-year old rider suffered.
My prayers and condolences for Paul Fleiss and all his loved ones.
“The Chief of Police as well as the Santa Paula Police Department did not condone this video and are extremely embarrassed by it. This video did not and does not express the views of the Santa Paula Police Department nor the Chief of Police, Steve McLean,” the agency noted in a Sunday news release…
“Don’t hold us to Ms. Weintraub’s views, period,” McLean added…
“Some people are trying to paint us as anti-this or anti-that, especially bicyclists that we welcome here. We love them here and we treat them well… I don’t think we’ve ever given a recreational bicyclist a ticket ever. We’re fighting crime and drug dealers.”
Santa Paula, said McLean, “Is a friendly town that has made accommodations for bicyclists,” including the Bike Trail where there are racks for riders to park and secure their bikes and visit the downtown.
“I’ve been here a year,” said McLean, “and we’ve never had an incident with a bicyclist…”
Like countless others, I watched in varying degrees of horror and outrage as she laughingly expressed her hatred of bikes, bicyclists and spandex, as well as her desire to run us all off or into the road.
After tweeting about it a few times myself, I made plans to express my own outrage on here. Only to discover the video had been taken down before I could get to it, leaving nothing to link to and no copy to repost.
Meanwhile, the proverbial defecation had hit the fan.
It didn’t take long for someone to discover that she worked as reserve officer for the Santa Paula PD, compounding the outrage that a uniformed cop would express such offensive thoughts in a cheap and badly failed attempt at humor.
Although cop is stretching it; someone sent me a link to a page showing Weintraub had made less than $100 working for the department in recent weeks.
Countless riders — and others who simply didn’t like the idea of killing or maiming innocent people for giggles — inundated Weintraub’s Facebook page, as well as the SPPD, with calls, emails and online comments.
She responded by removing the offensive video without comment, followed by what seemed like a sincere apology. Or at least, a damn good job of faking one.
I would like to apologize to all those who have been offended by what was intended to be a satirical video on cyclists. It was never meant to be hurtful or harmful in anyway, I am a human being, I made a mistake, I have learned from this and ask for your forgiveness. The responses have shown me overwhelmingly just how hurtful my comments were to some and that is not at all what I intended. As soon as I knew, I removed the video immediately.
The response from the cycling community has made me aware of the sport and its safety issues and challenges with drivers on the road of which I was completely unaware. My heartfelt apologies to those that have been offended and to those who face these very real challenges.
Then again, you’d think any reasonably sentient being would get that calling for violence against anyone for the simple crime of riding a bike would likely be taken the wrong — or in this case, the right — way.
For some inexplicable reason, though, many drivers don’t seem the grasp the fact that people don’t just bounce back after being knocked down; what would be a simple fender bender if they hit another car could be catastrophic if they collided with a cyclist or pedestrian.
Although you’d certainly think a cop — even a lowly reserve officer — would grasp the damage motor vehicles can do in the wrong hands.
At the same time, we can only imagine Chief Steven McLean’s reaction, as whatever community relations he had managed to build up in his year on the job were seemingly undone in a single afternoon by someone who barely worked for him.
Once his head undoubtedly finished exploding, the long-time veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department responded by suspending Weintraub pending investigation. Along with another reserve officer who snarkily answered the criticism by complimenting her videos and suggesting cyclists need to obey the law.
At that point, the controversy appeared to be over. The video was down, the woman in question appeared to have learned her lesson, and the chief had done the right thing.
Had she remained on the job — or even in limbo for awhile — we would have had a rare opportunity for a teachable moment.
If she truly got what she did wrong, and listened, as she said, to the many reasons why her attempt at humor wasn’t funny, she might have become more sympathetic to cyclists and a positive influence on her fellow officers. Or at the very least, unlikely to make a similar mistake a second time.
Not that she didn’t deserve to lose her job. But I’ve found that forgiveness is often more effective than vengeance in the long run.
Meanwhile, Santa Paula cyclists would have had a rare opportunity to demand a meeting with the chief and his officers to discuss the rights of riders and explain the risks we face in employing our legal and moral right to the road.
That door is probably closed now.
Chief McLean is likely to conclude that the matter has been concluded now that Weintraub is no longer a part of the department. And given the entirely justifiable vitriol dumped on him and his officers, he’s unlikely to open his door to our representatives anytime soon.
Which is not to say the anger wasn’t justified.
I was just as livid as anyone else when I viewed the video. However, we need to learn to direct that anger effectively, not just to get a young woman who did something incredibly stupid fired.
But to use it as an opportunity to build better relations with those charged with enforcing our rights. And achieve long-lasting changes that can and will improve safety and courtesy for everyone on the roads.
We won the battle.
But in doing so, we may have shot ourselves in the foot. And cost us an opportunity for dialogue that may not come again.
Thanks to everyone who reached out to me about this story; there are simply far too many to thank each of you individually.
New Seal Beach bike paths help close some of the final links in Orange County’s 66 mile OC Loop. Note to Press-Telegram: bike riders can actually ride anywhere they want in Downey, or anywhere else for that matter.