Biking While Black Is a Crime

Biking While Black Is a Crime
Illustration by Dan Andreasen

Huffing home on her green beach cruiser, Lekeithra Smith was already edgy about what might be hunkered down in the dark, waiting. It was near 9:30 p.m. in late April 2011. The 22-year-old was pedaling just a few feet behind her high-school-aged cousin Deadra, coming back from a party at their aunt's house. Both were stuffed from plates of food and feeling the late hour.

"Why are you taking my bike? It's not stolen."

They rode through a knot of residential streets behind Sunrise Boulevard businesses — all razor-fenced lots, oil-slicked loading areas, and dumpsters. Except for smudged yellow light spilling from the occasional street lamp, the neighborhood was dark. Neither knew the area. But hey, at least they were on bikes, Smith figured, and could speed away if someone bolted from the shadows.

Suddenly, Smith's eyelids crashed shut against a burst of light. Up ahead, about a half-dozen Fort Lauderdale police officers were swinging flashlights her way.

Lekeithra Smith was pulled over by Fort Lauderdale PD on her ride home. The officers took her bike, issued her a citation, and stranded the 22-year-old in a strange part of town.
Kyle Swenson
Lekeithra Smith was pulled over by Fort Lauderdale PD on her ride home. The officers took her bike, issued her a citation, and stranded the 22-year-old in a strange part of town.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley denies that racial profiling drives the bike ordinance enforcement.
Fort Lauderdale Police Department
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley denies that racial profiling drives the bike ordinance enforcement.

The young women were ordered off their bikes and questioned about where they were heading. One officer asked Smith if her bike was registered with the city, she remembers. "I don't know nothing about no bike being registered," she says she told them. "I ride my bike to work all the time."

Because it wasn't registered, the bike would be impounded, she was told. Smith, a black woman with thin haywire dreads and an eyebrow stud, threw up her defenses.

"Why are you taking my bike? It's not stolen," she said. She had the receipt back home, she explained, and her record was clean; she had a good job stacking merchandise at Winn-Dixie.

But the arguments didn't dent the officer's indifference. Police confiscated her bicycle and wrote a citation. "The cited individual is a resident of the city of Fort Lauderdale," the document read in simple policespeak. "The cited individual failed to register bicycle."

Smith was shocked. "I could get kidnapped or something. Anything can happen to either one of us because we're girls," an agitated Smith remembers warning the cops. "What if I come up missing on the same night that y'all took my bike? It will look bad on your behalf."

Smith spiked her cell phone against the pavement, then stomped home safely. Two years later, she is still angry. "Y'all taking my bike, but y'all not taking me back home," she says today. "I had to walk the streets at night."

If you're black in Fort Lauderdale, a bike ride might be the easiest way to land a run-in with police. A seemingly benign city law requiring registration of bicycles is — in practice — almost as racist as the NYPD's "stop and frisk" tactics. Of the nearly 460 citations handed out in the past three years in Fort Lauderdale, 86 percent went to African-Americans. Almost none were handed out in white neighborhoods east of Federal Highway. Indeed, more bikes are registered to blacks than to whites — 63 percent to 37 percent.

Critics see a pattern of racial profiling in those stats. They claim cops are stopping blacks on the pretense of doing a bike registration check and then using that to look for other crimes.

"That is selective enforcement and racial profiling," says Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. "It is illegal, it is unconstitutional, and it is also immoral."


"They do it every day," Sammie Lee Harris growls around a burning Newport. "There ain't a guy riding a bicycle that hasn't been stopped at one point or another."

All around Harris, the daily afternoon ritual at Delevoe Park is rolling along as usual. On the grassy stretch just off Sistrunk Boulevard, more than 30 people are filling up picnic benches. Brown-bagged tall boys are being tipped, and a light breeze tosses around the smell of one-buck cigars. LeVert's "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind" flows from huge stereo speakers mounted on the back of a Ford Explorer. Outside of a lone visitor, everyone in the park is black.

Harris, dapper head to foot in a loose polo, snow-white cargo shorts, and fedora, is agitated. Although he's hauling a criminal record that includes a robbery charge and a string of cocaine and marijuana possessions, the Pompano Beach resident has stayed out of trouble since 2009. Last November, he was pedaling his bike down Sistrunk, the main drag through Fort Lauderdale's historically black neighborhood, when police hassled him about registration. He wasn't a city resident, and according to the law, "registration is optional for out-of-city residents who ride their bicycles within the city." Still, Simmons says the police used the opportunity to run his name through the system and arrested him on suspicion of a warrant. He later was released without any charges.

"What do you need my ID for? Why are you asking me about the last time I was arrested?" Simmons barks, remembering his argument with the cops. "Why do you want to go through all these little procedures about a bike?"

Just then, a three-wheeled bike, slung low like a go-cart, rolls up to the table where Harris is seated while talking. Kenny Smith, the wiry driver, jury-rigged the ride himself. He says cops don't harass him for his bike because homemade bikes lack serial numbers and are therefore exempt from registration. "They pull up beside me and go," Smith says, showing a thumbs-up before cracking up with laughter.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
21 comments
bearkmor9701
bearkmor9701

my Aunty Caroline recently got an awesome 9
month old Mercedes-Benz C-Class Convertible only from working part time off a
pc. my review here buzz55­.­
­o­m

hannha
hannha

No I don't think it's the police. I would just like to know how come anytime something happens to a black person it spreads like wild fire but yet when it happens to another race it's swept under the rug. My husband was biking on a1a and got pulled over for no reason and asked for his green card just because he's hispanic yet it never made the news. I'm not saying black people are the problem I'm just saying that when all you hear on the news is a race problem against black people that it gets old especially when a black person is the leader of our country. Clearly this world can't be that racist if we elected a black president! 

cosmicsoul477
cosmicsoul477

I have been riding my bicycle in Florida for commute and recreation for more than a decade, and I have never heard of statewide bicycle registration being mandatory. I was even involved in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy. And mandatory bicycle registration, for the state, is news to me. 

As to the notion of Black Americans crying racism: A Black person might simply report an incident to the necessary agency, and it is the media which sometimes applies a racial perspective (which is actually good journalism). 

However, with that said, after what Black Americans and their ancestors have been through in this society, they can, frankly, say anything they want. 

Whites might feel guilt, discomfort or annoyance, but at the end of the day, they have not been through what Black people have, so I really don't feel that white people really have a right to tell Black people what to say, do or feel, no right whatsoever. 

foaswag
foaswag

All bikes in Florida are required to have a registration. This is nothing new. I'm 42 and every bike I've EVER had was registered with a special sticker. 


Nummbers
Nummbers

2008 (Jan-June) New York City Crime Statistics by Race (from Yahoo News)

-83% of all gun assailants were black, while making up 24% of the population

-Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 98% of all gun assailants

-49 of every 50 muggings and murders were carried out by blacks or Hispanics

-Blacks and Hispanics commit 96% of the crimes in New York, but include only 85% of those stopped during ‘stop and frisk’ incidents

NorthoftheBorder Gold
NorthoftheBorder Gold

You have to admit some crazy shit happens between black folks and police. Police seem like they are trying to find something to nail on them.

Sam Wright
Sam Wright

^^ Maybe Magda should read the article before making an ignorant comment, facts are a tricky thing: "Of the nearly 460 citations handed out in the past three years in Fort Lauderdale, 86 percent went to African-Americans. Almost none were handed out in white neighborhoods east of Federal Highway"

Magda Amor
Magda Amor

yes, these days anything that happens to a Black Person is racist.

concerned citizens committee,inc
concerned citizens committee,inc

I stated already this is rather distrubing.. especially in leaving a women abandoned, as with ms. smith, the police should let her keep her bike & appear in court @ a latter day. I don't believe this is a bad law necessarily (.. help prevent crimes/ potential engagement in a crime.. ) but this also appears to be " PROFILING" ..as Dr. lorie Fridell stated., somewhere down the road this law MUST BE TWEAKED for the correct balance..chairwomen concerned citizens committee,inc liberty city, miami,fla

hannha
hannha

I'm not missing the point, I am just saying what I feel about the situation. My husband is Hispanic and he got stopped while riding his bike he did nothing wrong and they asked him if he had a green card! I didn't go to the press, or the news channels. Every ethnic group has some kind of profiling from someone but it's funny because you never hear about it. The only time it ever really makes the news is when it's a black person. So honestly yes I'm kinda over it. 

hannha
hannha

This is truly getting out of hand. You can't do or say anything to a black person these days without them calling out the race card! Really? we are in 2013 with a black president Get over it, maybe you got stopped because you looked like you were up to no good, and maybe one of your "own" people called the cops on you.... It's not only about race and i'm tired of having to walk on eggshells because anything you do or so to a black person makes you a racist! 

hannha
hannha

@Sam Wright  No actually I think it's just that every little thing that happens to a black person is in the news and is considered racist. Like I said before every race has something happen to them yet it doesn't make the news, so it kinda gets old thats all.

cosmicsoul477
cosmicsoul477

@hannha Well, you should direct your ire to law enforcement. You must admit that, lately, law enforcement has been overreaching their boundaries. Sure, it could be media hype, but it seems to me if citizens of any race or ethnicity are being hassled and harassed for every little thing by police then it is clear that the police are the problem and not Black people.

ellenhaas2001
ellenhaas2001

@hannha I am an older white woman who works for the federal gov't and was pedalling to work one morning around 7:00 am. I was ticketed while riding my bicycle [cop didn't show at the hearing and the b/s ticket was dismissed] and the cop had the nerve to ask me if I was on drugs and where was my drivers license! I think the common thread is the bicycle. Cops hate cyclists...

greenbiker97
greenbiker97

You are missing the point. Hundreds of bikes travel up and down A1A every day. I myself ride there frequently. I have never seen a police officer stop anyone, and I have never been stopped. But I ride a road bike and am dressed in shorts, helmet, gloves, etc. and I am African American. My bikes are not registered. I have been riding my cruiser more, still no stops yet.If whites in these areas are being stopped as often as African Americans, fine. If not, the quacking alone identifies the duck.

greenbiker97
greenbiker97

You are missing the point. Hundreds of bikes travel up and down A1A every day. I myself ride there frequently. I have never seen a police officer stop anyone, and I have never been stopped. But I ride a road bike and am dressed in shorts, helmet, gloves, etc. and I am African American. My bikes are not registered. I have been riding my cruiser more, still no stops yet.

If whites in these areas are being stopped as often as African Americans, fine. If not, the quacking alone identifies the duck.

mahonpau
mahonpau

@cosmicsoul477 @Nummbers I read the same article as Nummbers.  I can't remember the source but it was up on Drudge a few days ago.  I think the point is that it's wrong when an individual's civil rights are violated through unwarranted stop and searches.  But that problem is miniscule within the black community compared to the problems that have lead to the high rate of violent crime perpetrated by black males.

cosmicsoul477
cosmicsoul477

Why do we have to make comparisons? Both are problems that should be addressed. We're not vying for which deserves more attention. Stay on topic, please.

 
Loading...