Police In Florida Are Using Bike Laws To Criminalize Being Black

The Tampa Bay Times recently released an article where it was reported that 8 out of 10 bicyclists that are given tickets for not following bicycle safety laws are black. The police told the Times that their primary objective is to enforce safety, and to prevent the theft of bicycles. However, it appears that the Tampa police are mainly concerned with creating another means of carrying on the “broken windows” methodology of police enforcement. The types of crimes being committed can be as simple as riding a bike without the cyclist having their hands on the handlebars.

The Times reports:

“Officers use these minor violations as an excuse to stop, question and search almost anyone on wheels. The department doesn’t just condone these stops, it encourages them, pushing officers who patrol high-crime neighborhoods to do as many as possible.

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.

The Times analyzed more than 10,000 bicycle tickets 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.”

The way that the bike safety laws are being enforced is essentially the same as New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. 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.

Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan told the Times:

“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.”

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.


Featured Image Credit:By Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons