Bike East Bay Stands with Black Lives Matter

Black Bicyclists are More Likely to Be Stopped by Police and What We’re Doing About It

Bike East Bay stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement because traffic stops are too often the first, tragic step before the death of a Black person at the hands of police. We know from recent studies of bicycle traffic enforcement in cities like Tampa, New York, Minneapolis, and right here in Oakland that police are more likely to stop Black bicyclists for traffic violations. We take a stand because Black bicyclists are disproportionately at risk.

What is #BlackLivesMatter?

Black Lives Matter is a movement for Black empowerment and liberation. The movement began in 2013 as a social media hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, created by three Black, queer women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, as a call to action to end systemic racism against Black people. The hashtag was created in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, in the shooting death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Black Lives Matter gathered national attention in 2014 after activists organized large demonstrations against the police shooting of 18-year old Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Today, Black Lives Matter is a decentralized network of activists with nearly 40 chapters in the US and Canada.

How much more likely are you to be stopped when biking while Black? A lot more likely, according to a recent study from Stanford University. Analyzing the 2014 traffic stop data from the Oakland Police Department (OPD), researchers found that of the 1,081 bicyclists stopped by police in 2014, 73% were Black. Police stopped six Black bicyclists for every white bicyclist detained. This number is disproportionately high compared to both the biking population and the general population of Oakland, which is 28% Black.

Another measure of racial disparity is in how the police encounter escalates. Even after statistically controlling for potential explanatory factors like neighborhood demographics and crime rates, police were much more likely to handcuff Black people during a traffic stop. According to the Stanford study data, Black bicyclists stopped in West Oakland were three times more likely to be handcuffed than white bicyclists in that neighborhood.

These statistics confirm the anecdotes and daily experiences of racial profiling in Oakland’s Black community. It is also important to remember here that Oakland is not unique. The instant suspicion and criminalization of Black people who bike is one manifestation of systemic racism not only in policing culture, but in American culture at large. What can we do to fight this pervasive bias in our institutions and within ourselves?

Racial breakdown of 764 bicycle traffic stops made by Oakland police in 2015

Use Data to Create Accountability

We absolutely support OPD and other police departments publishing traffic stop data for public scrutiny. As required by federal oversight, OPD released its raw traffic stop data publicly for the first time in 2016. Bike East Bay analysed this data and compared it to the Stanford study. While racial bias continued the year after the Stanford study was published, we found that the percentage of Black male bicyclists stopped by police declined slightly from 73% in 2014 to 66% in 2015. While we do not know at this time whether specific tactics were taken to reduce bias in bicycle stops, we believe that tracking this metric is a first step towards identifying and reducing bias.

Increase Safety through Advocacy and Education

As bicycle advocates, we must question the use of police enforcement as a tool for traffic safety. Remembering the tragic deaths of Oscar Grant III, Demouria Hogg, Philando Castile, and Sandra Bland among many others, Black folks are too frequently harmed and killed after an encounter with police in the name of “traffic safety.” Bike East Bay will continue to prioritize street safety through education and advocacy for better infrastructure. Until we can be confident of a peaceful outcome from traffic stops, we do not support increasing bicycle traffic stops or using ticketing as a means for increasing bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Bike East Bay has also taken steps to remove ordinances that could be used to target Black folks or create an undue burden after being stopped, including:

  • Deleting unneeded city code ordinances that can be misused by police as justification for stops and searches. In 2016, our staff successfully removed the City of Oakland’s bike registration requirement replaced it with a free, optional registration through BikeIndex.org.
  • Passing a state law allowing “bicycle traffic school” programs to reduce or remove ticket fees for bike violations. This enables free class alternatives to expensive fines that, when unpaid, lead to late fees, lost driving privileges, and eventually arrest warrants.

Change the Culture By Speaking Up

Bike East Bay stands with #BlackLivesMatter because when Black bicyclists are able to ride without fear, only then can we all bike in peace. We seek to change policing culture by calling out loud and clear that racial bias and police violence against Black people on bikes is unacceptable. Bike East Bay commits to being a learning organization that listens to, represents, and cultivates leadership by the people most affected by biased policing in the East Bay. As advocates, we will engage with community partners and citizen police advisory committees to strategize on solutions. We will hold decision makers accountable.

Bike East Bay’s work on police enforcement is guided by our new statement of values for equity and social justice. Learn more at BikeEastBay.org/Equity.


Back to the Winter 2017 issue of RideOn, Bike East Bay’s quarterly newsletter.
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