Bicycling While [insert color]

Posted on February 7, 2011


This weekend I was stopped for the third time in three months by a police officer while bicycling. While there is an argument to be made that in one of these stops, I was in a “dismount zone” [an unmarked dismount zone], the other one was for riding while “hand-less”, a crime listed perhaps in a heretofore unknown Borges-esque book of statutes.

This time, while riding through Piedmont, I was stopped by an officer who wanted to make sure that the bike I was riding wasn’t stolen. There was no other reason. I’m no angel, but on that day I was following all the rules of the road [and no, it’s not illegal to ride “hand-less”, I looked it up.], stopping at lights and stop signs, and riding in the bike lane [although it actually is legal to take up an entire lane in California.]

Last year I received two tickets for jaywalking. All of this sudden attention, as soon as I gave up driving, has led me to wonder about my place in the world, viz law enforcement. Am I alone in this? Is it my perceived race? My beard? My long hair? What?!!!?

It really is about to drive me crazy, and is putting a serious crimp in my enjoyment of our East Bay unseasonal weather.

I still have no answers, but some internet research shows that I am not alone.

There is this essay, about bicycling while “brown or bearded”… (h/t Cecilia)

This one, this one, this one about bicycling while black. I’m sure you can add about a thousand to that around the country if you take the time.

Maybe it’s simply easier to harass and arrest cyclists, since you don’t have to call the tow truck, or wonder if they  have a gun under the seat. Perhaps, it’s class based, with non-bike drag cyclists seen as poor people with few resources. Otherwise, of course, they’d be driving a car! Maybe people who drive, like cops, just don’t like us, and this is a perfectly legal way for them to get their jollies out on harassing us. I don’t know. Any personal experience or insight is welcome.


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