Biking While Black Is a Crime

"Fort Lauderdale is the only city that requires you to have a sticker," he says, grin tightening to a grimace. "But the main thing, it gives them probable cause, so they're going to run your name."

Critics see a pattern of racial profiling.

The statute simply requires "any person residing within the city who owns any bicycle to register such bicycle with the police department." The registration fee is $1, and each bike is given a small decal to indicate compliance. "A police officer may take into possession and impound any bicycle being operated or possessed on all streets," the law reads, "when the bicycle does not have attached thereto a bicycle registration decal."

Although Hollywood and North Lauderdale have similar provisions, their laws are rarely enforced. Miami-Dade also has a bike registration program, but it's voluntary.

After a run-in with Fort Lauderdale PD, Ellsworth Knowles took his complaints about the bike ordinance to the Broward Public Defender's Office.
Kyle Swenson
After a run-in with Fort Lauderdale PD, Ellsworth Knowles took his complaints about the bike ordinance to the Broward Public Defender's Office.
Patrick Muhammad (left), Jerome Scott, and George Griffin would like to see the city remind residents that they must register bikes.
Marta Xochilt Perez
Patrick Muhammad (left), Jerome Scott, and George Griffin would like to see the city remind residents that they must register bikes.

New Times reviewed nearly 460 citations handed out by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department between July 2010 and June 2013. Many of the numbers and addresses are no longer valid. Many of those cited have criminal records. A count by Finkelstein's office revealed that fewer than one in three of the citations contained comments from police about why the stops were initiated.

Clutching a bag from Burger King, Telly Lockhart says he was riding his bike down NW 11th Place near Sunrise around 9:30 on a weeknight in 2011 when a patrol car rolled up.

In 1992, he'd been charged with delivery of cocaine, aggravated assault, and battery; in 2002, he was again in cuffs on a cocaine possession charge. But the then-36-year-old had been clean since, and he said as much as a Fort Lauderdale Police officer approached.

The officer said Lockhart's bike didn't have a light and asked if it was registered, Lockhart remembers. He answered that he'd just bought the beach cruiser from Walmart. The officer explained that the bike would have to go. After searching his pockets and finding no contraband, the cop said Lockhart could come down to the police station, pay the fine, and get back the bike.

"Man, I don't have transportation to get the bike. That's why I'm on a bike," Lockhart protested. Bikeless, he was never able to retrieve his cruiser. Instead, he soon got a valet job at a Nissan dealership and later bought a car, he says. "No doubt, they don't go into the upscale neighborhoods and do that."

In August of 2011, Ellsworth Knowles was steering his black bicycle to the Midway Food Market just off Broward Boulevard. About the only thing on the then-43-year-old's mind was whether he'd be picking a Dr. Pepper or a Pepsi out of the cooler.

Suddenly, plainclothes police officers were marching out of an unmarked car, asking Knowles if his bike was registered. The dreadlocked commercial painter whistled some expletive at the cops, then explained the registration didn't apply because he didn't live in Fort Lauderdale but in Pembroke Pines.

According to Knowles, who'd been charged with battery in 1989 and grand theft in 1995, the cops smashed his black beach cruiser against the ground, bending the chrome-trimmed wheels.

"It's essentially fishing for crime, as opposed to having legitimate reasons to see if a crime is committed," he says today. "If they're stopping and spending time harassing me on my bike, you might have a burglar on the next street breaking into someone's home."


The Fort Lauderdale Police chief stands at ease in the middle of the street, hands in his uniform pockets, lobbing the occasional hock of spit onto the pavement. Frank Adderley is average in size and build, his face a clean-shaven, all-business screen that rarely jumps with emotion. Right now, he's listening to the same story he hears all the time, today pouring from Torren Poole.

From his front lawn on a side street off Sistrunk, the 30-something homeowner ticks off his complaints: Prostitutes have sex on the roof of the building behind the house where he lives with his wife and two kids. Tween drug pushers are pedaling the streets till 4 or 5 in the morning. If something isn't nailed down here, it's as good as stolen. He's had to call police twice this week about disturbances. His own bike was just swiped off his lawn.

"Have you ever seen The Walking Dead, bro? Walkers, that's what we've got," Poole says. "It's a war."

"And according to Finkelstein," Adderley chuckles, a rare crack in demeanor, "we're not supposed to stop them on bicycles."

Crime stats show mixed results for the area. Some crimes — such as assault and residential burglary — steadily declined between 2011 and today. But narcotics arrests rose between 2011 to 2012, from 211 to 245 arrests, with 148 logged already for 2013. Prostitution has also climbed from 21 arrests in 2011 to 65 in 2012, with six arrests on the books for 2013.

Poole says that considering all the crime, he's all for police using a registration ordinance as probable cause to stop people (even though, he admits, his own bike wasn't registered). Better yet, he says, the cops should lock down the whole city after hours with a martial-law-style curfew. "The police need to do what they need to do.

"And you know how you can see [the criminals are] up to no good?" Poole adds. He mimes a hand-in-the-cookie-jar face, then nervously looks back over his shoulder. As if on cue, a moment later a stick-figure-thin black woman wobbles by on a bicycle. Before pushing into the next block, she peers back. "Prostitute," Poole suggests.

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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.

 
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