#BikingWhileBlack

By Ginger Jui

Bike East Bay
Oct 10, 2018 · 3 min read
Najari Smith speaks to crowds outside the courthouse after charges against him were dropped. Photo by Malcolm Wallace.

Creating safe streets means more than just adding bike lanes, traffic calming, and sidewalks. Black people and people of color must be free to travel without fear of being stopped for minor traffic violations. Yet, according to Oakland police department’s 2015 traffic stop data, biking while Black means you are disproportionately at risk for being stopped and — as in the case of Richmond bicycle activist Najari Smith — handcuffed and jailed.

Najari Smith, a Black resident of Richmond and leader of community cycling organization Rich City Rides, was arrested during a peaceful group bike ride in Oakland this August. The ride was organized by Black-led cycling organizations Rich City Rides, Red Bike & Green, and Oakland’s Scraper Bike Team in memory of Nia Wilson, a Black woman fatally stabbed at MacArthur BART Station in July. While the ride was passing through Oakland’s First Friday street festival, police officers stopped Najari for playing music too loudly. Despite turning down the music and complying with all requests, Najari was handcuffed, arrested, and held for two nights in jail.

Photo by Malcolm Wallace

The community was outraged by this case of excessive police escalation against a Black man. Hundreds of people signed Rich City Rides’ petition asking that all charges be dropped and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt wrote a letter in support of Najari. While the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has dropped all charges, Najari’s arrest highlights the ongoing bias in police enforcement against Black people, including Black people on bikes.

“The traumatic effects of police targeting black, brown, and poor people is a public health issue because it forces upon us a spiritual deficit that we never asked for or deserved,” Najari wrote in an email to the community. He asked the bike community to continue pushing for positive changes in the police system and police behavior.

Bike East Bay is now working closely with Red Bike & Green, the Scraper Bike Team, and Rich City Rides to support effective policy change around group bike rides and bicycle programs, and to mitigate racial bias in policing of people on bikes. Bike East Bay joins our community partners in demanding that the Oakland Police Department cease and desist in targeting the Black community for minor traffic violations, and to update its heavy-handed crowd management policy to accommodate group bike rides.

Bike East Bay supports Najari and Rich City Rides, as well as our fiscally sponsored groups Red Bike & Green and the Scraper Bike Team, because Black lives matter and Black joy matters. We want more Black people and people of color on bikes, without the fear of being stopped by the police for celebrating, being loud, and being ourselves.

To get involved in our work to reduce racial bias in traffic enforcement, email Advocacy@BikeEastBay.org.

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