Man is Shot and Killed by the Officers He Called to Help Search for Stolen Bike. Is it a Livable Streets Issue?
Several months ago, I asked that a link to a story on the beating of Clinton Alford by LAPD officers be included in our daily headlines.
The 22-year-old African-American man had been riding his bike along Avalon Blvd. near 55th St. in South L.A. one night when a car pulled up alongside him and someone inside shouted at him to stop. Because the man didn’t identify himself as a police officer, Alford told the L.A. Times, when the men came after him and grabbed the back of his bike, he took off running.
Once he realized they were cops, he lay down voluntarily and allowed them to restrain him.
That’s when another car pulled up, a heavyset officer ran over, and the assault on the restrained young man began in earnest.
“I was just praying that they wouldn’t kill me,” he said of the blows that repeatedly rained down on his head and slight frame. “I just closed my eyes and tried to hold on.”
A reader objected to the inclusion of the link in the headlines, arguing that it was racism that had prompted the attack, not the fact that the young man was bicycling, and that I shouldn’t try to push an agenda on our readers.
I was disappointed by the comment — it is well-known that law enforcement has long associated bikes with criminality, substance abuse, and gangs in lower-income communities of color. In Alford’s case, they assumed he was leaving a crime scene, despite the fact that he did not fit the description of the robbery suspect they were searching for.
But I wasn’t surprised by the comment, either.
The idea that someone’s race or status can be separated from their ability to move through the public space is a sentiment I come up against consistently in a variety of forums within the livable streets advocacy community. It manifests both in the non-inclusion of such issues in policy (like Vision Zero) and in the categorization of the hostility of the public space to people of color as separate from issues of livability. It doesn’t mean advocates don’t care about the problem. But it does mean they may not know where it fits in to livability or how.
Even at Streetsblog NYC, editor Ben Fried, in response to the Eric Garner ruling, wrote of
…grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.
Much like the commenter, he essentially points to racism as the problem.
Which, of course, it is.
But racism has never been a passive noun. It colors the assumptions we make about those around us — who they are and what their intentions might be. And when those assumptions manifest in the behavior of those tasked with the authority of defining “security” and monitoring the public space, we have a livable streets issue on our hands.
Advocates need to accept that part of keeping streets “safe” and “livable” for everyone else has involved curbing the “threats” to their security. And that while cars, bad design, and a blatant disregard for the rights of those on foot or on bikes are certainly a massive component of that, those “threats” have also been construed as people of color attempting to engage in the very thing that livability advocates seek to encourage — unfettered movement through the public space. Read more…