Thursday, May 27, 2010

BREAKIN THE LAW

So most of you have probably already heard, because Brett angry-texted everybody in his phone while it was going down, but we had a little run in with the big bad MPD last night. Around 1 am, Brett, Charles, Andrew, Catherine, and I headed downtown to jump the stairs in front of the Forum. We went straight down Poplar, which was fine for a weeknight that late; hardly any cars in sight. We got to Second (a one way street) and turned left. Andrew veered off left at Jefferson to check out some little stairs in front of the courthouse, which was the first bad idea. Never smart to linger around federal buildings at night, but we got away with that.

Shit hit the fan when we turned left back onto Second. Charles, Andrew, and I cut way across to the right lane, and Brett and Catherine stayed left, both of these moves being fine because it was a one way street. But then officer Ernie Craft spotted us and, of course, started giving us crap. By this time, we had all met together in the right lane, and he passed us on the left, saying over his loudspeaker, "next time I better see y'all wearin helmets, understand?" It was over a muffled loudspeaker atop a moving vehicle, so no, not all of us understood, and with the slightest shake of Andrew's head, good ole Ernie pulls us over.

Right off the bat, dude looks me in the eye and asks me how old I was. I guess I looked too young to be on a bike, what the heck. After taking all of our IDs, he starts writing us tickets for not wearing helmets. We, being the well educated and prepared cyclists, politely asked him if it actually is illegal, which it isn't, but he (the cop, mind you) did not know this fact. After realized he could quite possibly be a dumb, hot-headed cop, he quickly changed the charge to "obstructing traffic". This is 1 am downtown on a weeknight; traffic was nonexistent.

I automatically think to get this guys's car, license plate, and badge number, and I got a pen out of my bag and started writing them down on my hand while he's running our IDs in his car. Immediately, the cop comes stomping out of the car, saying "I'll give you something to need those numbers for" and puts me in the back of the car. ME! A little, innocent girl that apparently was too threatening to not have contained inside a police car. I freaked out for a second, but after realizing he didn't have anything to arrest me for, it basically just turn into a smelly and boring place to have to spend a half an hour. Apparently Charles was being too dangerous also, and ended up joining me for a few minutes, after being searched.

The cop eventually called for back-up because he didn't want to write out 5 tickets himself. They eventually let us out of the car, but we still were stuck sitting on the curb until 2:45 while they searched through a two-inch thick book of codes, just to make sure we were actually breaking a law. We ended up all getting citations for "obstructing highway or passageway", which is in violation of code 21-139. This would be true, but technically to be "obstructing", there has to be at least one other vehicle present, which there was not. Even if there were other cars, we are allowed to be in the right lane of traffic, which is right where we were. The other two cops basically thought that Ernie was full of it, and I think they kind of felt sorry for us, but dude has influence, apparently.

BREAKIN THE LAW
Us, with our citations (Charles's being a torn-up ball wooshing down past his face)

We all have the same court time and date, which also happens to be Charles birthday. The whole thing isn't that big of a deal and the ridiculous charges will most likely be dropped, but it's just an example of how terrible cycling conditions are in Memphis. No only are roads bad and motorists evil, but even the Man keeps us down, when we aren't even breaking laws. Even this time wasn't as bad as when Charles got hit by a car, who fled the scene, and he still ended up with a traffic ticket. Some lady hit him and drove off, leaving Charles with a ticket, a bent frame, and a dislocated shoulder.

It was three hours of cops researching what they could charge us with, while constantly asking us how old we were. We each answered that question around 6 times. AND, they all left their cars running for the whole three hours, which kind of pisses me off more. Our law enforcers are not only ignorant jerks, they're wasteful, ignorant jerks. Brett might write a more articulate post later, but I was too baffled to not tell as many people about this as I could and as soon as possible.

We live in Memphis. We don't know the meaning of bike lanes or compensation, whether monetary or medical, when we get hurt riding our bikes because of cars. Here in Memphis, it's always going to be the cyclist's fault. We can't argue with being written a citation, and we also can't retaliate and raise hell because we all have jobs and responsibilities we can't risk by being arrested. Tonight I felt that being a cyclist stripped me of my rights and I had no power. I couldn't do anything but give in to something that was completely wrong. The officer even threatened us by saying if we didn't sign our citations, we would be going to jail.

I hadn't really let this situation bother me until now. Even when I was in the car, I was completely calm and strong-willed, but now that I'm typing it all out, I realize that this sucks really hard. We need to do everything we can to make this never happen again. This is a small incident for us, but a HUGE injustice to every cyclist in Memphis. We need to make this better somehow.

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I feel for you. My phone was hiding from me and I didn't get the message until this morning. A similar situation happened to me as I was on my way to work one morning. I was in the left turn lane on McLean at Union when an officer pulled up and told me I needed to get out of the intersection. I backed up thinking that I was too far forward and he says, "No, you can't ride your bike in the street." After I told him that I was lawfully allowed to be there I offered to follow him to the precinct right down the street to show him the law. We pulled out the law book and he begins reading 'bicycles are subject to the rules and rights of automobiles' and this big 'Oh' comes out of his mouth and he keeps reading 'shall ride as far right as practicable' and says to me, "See, you were in the left turn lane, you can't be there." To which I reply, "Keep reading." He continues, "Except under the following conditions: when overcoming a slower moving vehicle or when making a left hand turn." Another big 'Oh'. We debated the finer points of traffic until I dropped Councilman Shea Flinn's name, who just sponsored an resolution updating the bicycle laws. Then he backed off.

    For that updated ordinance view this file, pg 9-14: http://www.cityofmemphis.org/pdf_forms/documents_041310.pdf

    The way to make this better is to join the community organizations who are already working for it such as Walk Bike Memphis which meets at Otherlands every 2nd Monday at 5:30pm. This group was instrumental in rewriting the bike laws that you just read.

    And you can thank me for making sure the fixed gear clause got in there.

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  3. That story is awesome! And thanks for the fixed gear consideration. We thought he might try and get us for that, since all of us were riding brakeless, but dude was totally oblivious. I like the part about acrobatic riding. They definitely wrote on Charles's citation something about wheelie-ing off a curb, but apparently that's okay! I like the yielding at red lights parts too, because we have been pulled over for that in the past also. We for sure were not breaking any laws; we all had lights and were in the right lane of traffic when he pulled us over. This is awesome, and now that I know brakeless fixed is allowed, I'm always going to have a copy with me. But it's also kind of a dream. Cops don't care about this and are still going to pull us over, whether or not they actually know the law, because they want a reason to mess with us. The law is on our side, but the city isn't, and pulling out a copy of these codes will only make the police more angry and cause them to give us ridiculous charges, like "obstructing traffic". Thanks for helping update the cycling laws, but how can we change people's minds?

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  4. I think Cara summed it up pretty nicely. And yeah, thanks for the fixed gear clause, Cort. The only reason I wasn't carrying around a copy of the laws to begin with is because I thought it would hurt my case, seeing as other people have tried to say that being able to lock up the back wheel counts as a brake, but been ticketed anyway.

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  5. i feel your pain. i actually got hit by an undercover in New Orleans and he threatened to arrest me and make me pay for his car(?!?) if i didnt ride off and pretend nothing happened.i was on a cruiser and he was in an suv, so my bike looked like a fucking boomerang, and before i knew what happened, he was zooming off in his car. i think i need to get a rear rack with an attorney riding on it haha

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  6. This is the continuation of a fine tradition by police departments all over the country of harassing cyclists. The best (or worst) example is the cop in New York who attacked a cyclist during a Critical Mass ride: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWjSOVDyUJ4

    I hope you're going to do something about this incident, like bring it to the attention of every person in authority you can. I suggest you contact the police department's legal adviser (dealing directly with the police brass will probably be a waste of time, since they're in the business of defending their people, almost no matter what they do). The MPD's lawyer, though, needs to understand the department is fucked up when it comes to cyclists, because they're going to have a major problem with liability if they don't change.

    B the way, you do know, I assume, that you probably have a lawsuit (if you wanted to pursue it) against the MPD for false arrest and a violation of your civil rights. It's probably a bigger pain in the ass than you want to incur, but think about it anyway.

    New bicycle laws aren't worth the paper they're written on if the folks who enforce the law don't even know what it is, and worse harass the beneficiaries of those laws.

    Good luck.

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  7. The third and final reading of the new Memphis bicycle ordinances occurred on May 11, 2010. Despite the amendments to law, I was stopped and cited on my 1 mile commute under three old ordinances by Officer Hughes and Officer Donovan on S. Main St. Evidently these officers don't have an updated code of ordinances.

    Two of the citations were for the egregious offenses of riding without a reflector (in the daylight) and riding without a bell. The other offense was riding too far from the curb. I hazard a guess that Officers Hughes and Donovan have never fallen on the trolley rails.

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