Biking While Black Is a Crime

Dr. Lorie Fridell, an associate professor at the University of South Florida's Department of Criminology, who wrote a 500-page book on racial profiling, says disparities in statistics can lead to various interpretations.

"That bike," Chief Adderley says, "is not registered. You would see a little sticker."

"Men are arrested more than women, low-income people are arrested more than high income, young people more than elderly people. Those are disparities, but that doesn't necessarily imply police bias." Still, the Fort Lauderdale PD numbers on bike citations "certainly raise my concerns," Fridell says.

She says police are using the bike ordinance as "pretext stops" — using probable cause for one violation as a pretext to investigate a separate crime. According to a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court decision titled Whren v. U.S., law enforcement is free to conduct such stops — but not when race is the motivating factor, she says.

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 information that black drug dealers sometimes use bikes is not enough to justify targeting blacks on bikes," Fridell says. "So there's the possibility here that the officers are using these bike stops as a pretext to investigate drug crimes, and they are using race in making their decisions, which would violate the Whren v. U.S. decision and thus the Constitution."


Patrick Muhammad is down front in the audience, waiting for his opening. Nearly every hard metal chair in the indoor meeting space at Carter Park on Sunrise Boulevard is filled, an unusual turnout for the monthly community get-together held by City Commissioner Bobby Dubose. Everyone who speaks is greeted with serious nods and hearty "amens."

Muhammad is lank and lean, draped in black pants and matching tunic with red shoulder lapels, the uniform of the Nation of Islam. He's here hoping to whip up some ire over the bike ordinance; if he can find enough wronged riders, he intends to file a class-action lawsuit against the department.

But the audience is cranked up over a different matter: the newly created Flagler Village, a yuppie enclave across the train tracks that has decided not to extend the name "Sistrunk Boulevard" to its leg of Sixth Street. The name — an homage to Broward's first black physician, Dr. James Sistrunk — is a point of pride for the people in the room. The representatives from Flagler Village, however, say the name today is associated with drugs and crime.

It's racism, some say. "I remember when Fort Lauderdale was one of the most racist cities in the country, if not the most racist," says one wrinkled black man. "And we're not that far removed from that. When the rubber hits the road, we've got to do it, we've got to step up and raise hell and throw rocks — not physically."

Muhammad was raised in Ocala and Fort Lauderdale; as a young man, he lived the fast life — drugs, guns, and shoeboxes of cash under the bed. Short jail stints for accessory after the fact in a shooting and dealing in stolen property slowed his rise as a street hustler. He bagged the thug life altogether in 1993, he says, when he joined the Nation of Islam. He now owns a car-detailing business but still goes door-to-door to recruit followers.

When Muhammad first read about the bicycle law, it hit a familiar note. "I know the history of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, and I know growing up in that area that we've always had a problem with treatment from the police," he says. "They've always done things to make life harder on us. This bicycle law is just another way they could get to us." Muhammad never got a turn to speak at the meeting. But on his own, outside of the Nation of Islam, he's been meeting with community leaders. He'd like the city to be more proactive in registering bicycles. He's also begun tentatively to round up plaintiffs for a possible lawsuit. Whether the bike ordinance stands or falls depends on whether it's challenged.

The American Civil Liberties Union would be onboard with such a fight. Fort Lauderdale attorney Barry Butin, head of the ACLU's Broward branch, says the statistics about the number of citations handed out to African-Americans spell out a constitutional violation. "Police officers are supposed to base stops on reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, not based on the color of someone's skin."

Butin, like Muhammad, says the next step is rounding up enough plaintiffs. "It's a factual situation where you have to prove in court constitutional violations, and you need plaintiffs for that," Butin says. "Some people that are subject to this might just leave it for another day or not want to sign their name on a lawsuit against police. What we would be looking for now are people willing to go all the way with this."

Finkelstein's office is taking a small-scale approach: going case by case, bringing up the uneven enforcement statistics as a defense for any of his clients whose arrest began with a bike stop. The police, he bellows, are using the bike ordinance "as a ruse, a subterfuge, a pretext in order to question them and search them," he says. "This biking law was created for no other reason than to stop people."

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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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