Bicycling While Black Can Land You in Trouble with Police in Tampa, Florida

Seal_of_Tampa,_Florida.svgBy Elaine Magliaro

Alexandra Zayas and Kameel Stanley reported recently that a Tampa Bay Times investigation had found that the Tampa police were “targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars.”

They said, “If the tickets are any indication, Tampa residents must be the lousiest bicyclists in Florida.” Evidently, some of the bicyclists in Tampa don’t use lights at night…or ride too close to the curb… or can’t “manage to keep their hands on the handlebars.”

Zayas and Stanley said that “Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets — more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined” in the past three years. Police have claimed that “they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts.”

According to Zayas and Stanley, something that the Tampa police have neglected to mention about the bicyclists that they have ticketed: “Eight out of 10 are black.”

The Times reportedly analyzed more than 10,000 bicycle tickets that Tampa police issued in the past dozen years. “The newspaper found that even though blacks make up about a quarter of the city’s population, they received 79 percent of the bike tickets.”

Tampa police officers are reportedly using minor bicycle violations “as an excuse to stop, question and search almost anyone on wheels.” Mayas and Stanley said that the police department “doesn’t just condone these stops, it encourages them, pushing officers who patrol high-crime neighborhoods to do as many as possible.”

Zayas and Stanley:

There was the 56-year-old man who rode his bike through a stop sign while pulling a lawnmower. Police handcuffed him while verifying he had, indeed, borrowed the mower from a friend.

There was the 54-year-old man whose bike was confiscated because he couldn’t produce a receipt to prove it was his.

One woman was walking her bike home after cooking for an elderly neighbor. She said she was balancing a plate of fish and grits in one hand when an officer flagged her down and issued her a $51 ticket for not having a light. With late fees, it has since ballooned to $90. She doesn’t have the money to pay.

Joe Fletcher (Addicting Info) said that the way that these bike safety laws are being enforced in Tampa “is essentially the same as New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy.”

Fletcher:

Stop-and-frisk was officially halted in New York in 2013, after it was proven that people of color were being stopped far more often than white people were. Since then, tickets for petty infractions have plummeted. Serious crimes, such as homicide, have also fallen since 2013, leading to the end of any legitimacy the policy may have once had.

Mayas and Stanley said that the Times’ “findings concern others — Hillsborough Circuit judges and the Public Defender, social rights advocates and some of the leading researchers in race and policing.”

Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan said, “You almost roll your eyes when you read the reports. Oh no, another bike stop, another kid riding on the handlebars, here we go. And certainly, we have laws and we should all follow the law, but it occurred to me the stops were all occurring in certain neighborhoods and with certain children, and not in my neighborhood, and not with the white kids.”

Fletcher:

In the same way, that stop-and-frisk appears to have failed to prevent crime in New York City; it appears to be preventing to help encourage bicycle safety. According to the Times, bike crashes and thefts have increased since 2013. This coincides with a policy of steadily increased attention given to bicycle safety enforcement that began in 2007.

With this information, the public once again can see how “broken windows” policing continues to further racist law enforcement policies, and fails to prevent major crimes. Stop-and-frisk style laws have been created in many forms in communities around the nation. Whether they come disguised as bicycle safety laws or trespassing laws, their continued existence is a continuation of white supremacy.

Mayas and Stanley reported that the U.S. Department of Justice “will review the Tampa Police Department’s enforcement of bicycle laws after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found 79 percent of the agency’s bike tickets go to black residents.”

Zayas and Stanley:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday that he and police Chief Jane Castor asked federal officials to review the program because their expertise can “bring clarity to us and to the community and may help evolve our current strategies.”

In a statement that was his first public comment on the issue, Mayor Buckhorn said, “Racial profiling is not just illegal, it is unjust and immoral. It is not — and has never been — tolerated in the Tampa Police Department or any city department or division.”

SOURCES

How riding your bike can land you in trouble with the cops — if you’re black (Tampa Bay Times)

Mayor, Tampa police ask feds to review enforcement of bike laws (Tampa Bay Times)

Police In Florida Are Using Bike Laws To Criminalize Being Black (Addicting Info)

 

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4 Responses to Bicycling While Black Can Land You in Trouble with Police in Tampa, Florida

  1. Mike Spindell says:

    Elaine,

    How could you? The fact that most people who are stopped are Black is merely a coincidence and should having nothing to do with police racism. We should, according to some who write here, examine each one of the 2,504 violations to see why these dangerous bikers were ticketed, by impartial officers risking their lives to protect us from bike thefts. After all no one got shot.

  2. Elaine M. says:

    Mike,

    You know me. I’m one of those folks who isn’t concerned with “ascertaining the truth.” I just frame a particular narrative and roll with it. Ain’t no such thing as racist cops. Racism is dead in this country. Haven’t you heard? The big problem is the mob! You know when folks like us get together and protest injustice. We’re bad, bad people.

  3. bettykath says:

    We’ve got lots of adult males in the system, now it’s time to get the next generation in the system.

  4. Have to feed the for-profit prison system, you know. Profit demands more profit, and 1.5M missing back men is just the beginning of a very lucrative market – http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/20/upshot/missing-black-men.html?abt=0002&abg=0

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