The Chainlink

'Biking while black': Chicago minority areas see the most bike tickets

Okay as the article points out there are lots of potential explanations for this but not a single North side area listed in the top ticked areas?

As Chicago police ramp up their ticketing of bicyclists, more than twice as many citations are being written in African-American communities than in white or Latino areas, a Tribune review of police statistics has found.

The top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African-American and three that are majority Latino. From the areas with the most tickets written to the least, they are Austin, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, South Lawndale, Chicago Lawn, West Englewood, Roseland, West Garfield Park, New City and South Chicago.

Not a single majority-white area ranked in the top 10, despite biking's popularity in white areas such as West Town and Lincoln Park."

Read full article at the Tribune site...

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I think the point is that a minor traffic violation does not constitute Probable Cause any more than littering and jaywalking do. So in that sense diverting limited police resource to those activities is counterproductive. I'm sure that if the 300+ tickets written had led to major crimes being solved we would have heard that connection clearly stated. You don't pull over a guy on a bicycle on the pretext that they are also committing a felony and then only write a ticket for the bike infraction, that's ridiculous.

All of that said, you still shouldn't ride your bike on the sidewalk. But you shouldn't get arrested for it either, we employ people to enforce the law as opposed to going totally Big Brother with cameras as people are supposed to use their training and experience to show judgment. It appears to be sorely lacking in this case.

I agree with the lack of judgement or discretion, but I've also heard from cops someone "talked their way" into a ticket. I would imagine that if one argues with a cop over the merit of the stop or law, that it would be smart to issue a citation to document the stop versus someone filing a complaint without one having been issued. I've been a passenger in a car where friends got tickets that were silly because they MF'd the cop.

Now to argue what level of lawlessness constitutes probable cause can open a can of worms. Yes sidewalk biking, speeding, not stopping at a stop sign, or shooting someone are all forms of probable cause to be stopped. While the latter is far more egregious and nefarious, if we change what consitutes PC by law we would create a mad max situation.....except maybe on bikes which would be pretty cool to see what was built....sorry funny image.

Cops have a lot of discretion as far as enforcing the laws, that's just a reality. So it is never wise to do anything but speak to them respectfully, but to stand your ground regarding your right not to self-incriminate.

But the terms "breaking the law" and "probable cause" are not mutually interchangeable, as you are suggesting. If a cop sees you break a law, the response is dictated by the law in question.

Speeding (at least if within I think 20 mph over the limit), riding a bike on the sidewalk, littering, etc. are not crimes that trigger frisks and arrest.

Probable cause implies you were seen behaving in such a manner that strongly implied a law has been broken, hence why a cop would need to question you. They don't question you if they see you actively commit a felony, they arrest you and ask questions *later*.

And in this case, maybe you could argue that riding a bike on a sidewalk was probable cause in some very specific cases, say *if* you saw the guy leaving the home of a known drug trafficker, with a package in plain view, that was then handed off to a third party a block away. But no, absolutely no way does some minor moving violation constitute probable cause.

Perhaps 'Reasonable Suspicion' is the proper term here;

'Probable Cause Vs. Reasonable Suspicion,' by Devallis Rutledge

" A stop is a detention, either of a pedestrian or a vehicle. Detentions are lower levels of intrusion on a person's liberty than arrests. They may be made on the basis of a lower quantity and quality of suspicion. That lower level is called "reasonable suspicion." The Supreme Court has made the distinctions clear:

"The level of suspicion required for a detention [stop] is obviously less demanding than that for probable cause. The police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot, even if the officer lacks probable cause." (U.S. v. Sokolow)

"Reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause not only in the sense that it can be established with [less information], but also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to show probable cause." (Alabama v. White)

Yes, and so "less reliable" information may pass the legal threshold, but that is very different than *no* information, i.e., a cop can't just detain you on a hunch or because of the way you look (aka, biking while black).

This also clearly confirms that the term "Probable Cause" is not applicable in this context.

No.  It would make sense to leave them alone and not treat them differently because they're not a white person cycling on Milwaukee Ave.

That's not accurate either. If you mean, don't treat them differently from a white person blowing through red lights on Milwaukee Ave, now we're talking.

We're exhausted.  Being Black in Chicago is extremely unpopular right now.  This is from the top leadership down.  Angry blog rants won't do.  We ARE actively doing things to improve the situation, but seeking mainstream support is not a focus.  The biking community is not a strong advocate for Black riders either.  Even when trying to be supportive, it is from a high-handed, but very condescending place.  

Angela, I'm sorry. I've commented more than once in an advocacy context that language can be a barrier between communities. I feel that may be a factor here. A word or phrase may have different meanings, nuances and baggage depending on community and context. 

In this extremely divisive time, when we need to support each other more than ever, we often end up finding more barriers. I wish I had a perfect answer here. I don't. 

Let's not give up.

The data show that CPD stop blacks at a much higher rate than non-blacks, even when no violation of the law has occurred.  It is not remotely surprising that CPD would use bike laws as a pretext to continue this trend.


Anne is correct that it is not constructive for a number of reasons.

This (racist abuse of bike laws by police as a pretext for BS) is common nationwide, and I see it often cited in helmet law debates. For example the article on helmets ( which judging on the style was last updated in 2014 or so) references a study in Austin that found very similar abuses... I am sadly unsurprised that Chicago in 2017 is no better. This is also important to keep in mind when we discuss how to increase bicycling on the west and south sides.

Nothing new! CDOT, the Chicago Police Department are racist (yes I said what others are thinking). CDOT is racist when it comes to planning biking infrastructure in Chicago. The north side receives much more in planning and the acquisition of biking infrastructure. Residents of the west side and south side pay taxes also! The monies collected go into a general fund and are dispersed by the federal government to cities for various projects. So, if citizens of the south and west side are paying into this fund, why can't we receive the same services and amenities as the north side? It's like chipping in equally to buy a pizza and only getting the crust! WTF?

Perhaps it's time to file a class action lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago Department of Transportation! Anyone want to join in this?


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