ACLU of Illinois Weighs in on the CPD’s Racially Skewed Bike Ticketing Policies

An ACLU rep says it's doubtful that heavy-handed bike enforcement would be tolerated in majority-white neighborhoods

Johnny Harris rides a bike in North Lawndale. Photo: John Greenfield
Johnny Harris rides a bike in North Lawndale. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this month criminal justice reform advocates, cycling activists, and North Lawndale residents slammed the Chicago Police Department’s practice of writing exponentially higher numbers of bike tickets in some communities of color compared to majority-white neighborhoods as a strategy to conduct searches.

At the June Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, police representative Glenn Brooks Jr. acknowledged that the higher rates of ticketing in some Black and/or Latino areas are the result of bike and motor vehicle enforcement being used as a violence-prevention tactic. He said that a CPD analysis of 3,300-plus sidewalk riding tickets indicated that the traffic stops are being used to facilitate searches for illegal guns and drugs. Brooks added that he doesn’t feel the tactic represents racial profiling because the demographics of those ticketed reflect the neighborhoods, and he indicated that the CPD doesn’t plan to stop the practice.

Today Karen Sheley, director of ACLU of Illinois’ police practices project, said she strongly disagrees with Brooks’ assessment. “This type of policing, using stops for minor violations as a means to try and identify more serious violations, has been going on for decades, and it’s the primary driver for racial profiling,” she said. “This decision to make it more costly to ride a bike in the neighborhoods that can least afford it is worrisome.”

Brooks told MBAC attendees that about ten percent of the traffic stops studied resulted in charges for more serious crimes, but Sheley says the department’s bike ticketing strategy is counterproductive for reducing violence. “When people feel like they’re being targeted in their neighborhoods, it leaves a negative impression of the police,” she said. “And when you’re law-abiding, it’s really offensive to be stopped for minor ticky-tacky violations and basically be treated like a criminal.” She added that this makes citizens less likely trust the police and share information with them, which is a factor in Chicago’s low clearance rate for solving serious crimes such as murders.

Sheley noted that the 2017 U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the CPD outlined how this kind of “broken windows”-style enforcement of minor infractions has had an negative effect on community relations and crime solving. She added that social science researchers have reached similar conclusions.

The CPD’s de facto policy of rarely ticketing for bike violations in white neighborhood while frequently writing them in many Black and/or Latino communities may also be illegal, Sheley said. She noted that the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 made it unlawful to have a policy with disparate impacts on the basis of race.

What if the police leveled the playing field by writing more bike tickets in majority-white areas? That way Lincoln Park, where five citations were issued in 2017, according to a report by the Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski, might see as many tickets as North Lawndale, where 397 tickets were written that year.

“What you see is that when white people face the same burdens as Black people, policies change,” Sheley responded, adding that she would be surprised if such heavy-handed bike enforcement would last long in Lincoln Park. She also noted that it would be a questionable use of limited police resources to write hundreds of tickets a year for minor bike violations in low-crime neighborhoods, just as it is in high-crime ones.

In 2015 ACLU of Illinois reached an agreement with the CPD requiring increased documentation of “stop-and-frisk” investigatory police stops and body searches. Sheley said her organization would need to get more specifics on the CPD’s bike ticketing practices to determine whether this issue is something they’d take on in conjunction with their work on stop-and-frisk.

“We’re going to continue to review the bike stops in the context of the stop-and-frisk agreement and we’ll be continuing to investigate this problem,” Sheley said. “We’ve heard complaints about this and we’ve been following the issue. We encourage people to talk to us about their experiences being stopped for a bike violation.” She added that, if staff time is available, the ACLU may send a representative to the next MBAC meeting to learn more about the subject.

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  • Dale_Doback

    So, these same communities that complain about the violence … that complain the police don’t do enough to “make them feel safe” then go on to complain about any and all tactics and strategies used by the police to help remedy the violence?

    If the cops truly are using this as a strategy, maybe the commonsense solution would be to hand out less tickets? If you’re stopping people in an effort to engage the community and identify threats (and none are found), then simply move on, and let the person you stopped do the same, right?

    As far as “profiling,” what part of: “the demographics of those ticketed reflect the demographics of the neighborhoods” don’t people understand? Furthermore, where do these people complaining think 90%+ of the violence and shootings are taking place in Chicago, Lincoln Park???? It really is just laughably hypocritical.

    At a certain point, the black community is going to have to ask themselves a very serious question: What’s more offensive? Hurt feelings, or dead bodies? I would think that question answers itself, but obviously not.

  • Gin Kilgore

    The evidence is staggering that people of color, especially African-American boys and men, are over-policed. The double standards around use of public space in this country are unconscionable.

  • Dale_Doback

    The evidence is staggering that people of color, especially African-American boys and men, make up the vast majority of both the “killed” AND the “killers” in this nation (and city). The double standards around that fact, and the idea social justice warriors like you are arguing over bike tickets is truly unconscionable. Tell me Gin, where do you live, because I have a feeling it’s not in one of these neighborhoods. Seeing white SJW like you continue to perpetrate the professional victimhood mentality across the black community (while more and more die every single day) leads me to one question: How do you sleep at night?

  • Charlie Short

    Dale, personalizing an attack on Gin is unfair, but I’m guessing you will repel an arguments that anyone might make against you. That said, I will entertain your question in your above comment.

  • Dale_Doback

    I didn’t personally attack anyone … she’s a white social justice warrior (and probably proud of that fact), so explain to me how that’s an “attack”?

  • Charlie Short

    Dale, while there are not official numbers, the modeshare use in a neighborhood like Austin, is much much lower than a place like Lincoln park, so demographics aren’t actually at play. The police don’t have any idea how to “stop” crime and violence (I would argue that they can’t actually stop anything, but that’s another issue,) so they resort to punitive measures like busting anyone riding a bike on a sidewalk in a neighborhood of high violence and hope they can elevate the charges by finding drugs or a gun or by simply shaking down this person. Your argument is based on this as a sound method for crime fighting, when it is both illegal and lazy (and unfair to cops that might want to actually protect people, since it engenders an us-vs-them mentality.)

    The problem of violence in neighborhoods of color and low-moderate income is a product of years of inequity. Gangs and drugs are the only constant, and the trauma of being treated like less than human reinforces these things as the only methods of survival (and even that is highly simplistic.)

    Telling folks in these neighborhoods to get it together (or whatever you want to say) is a chicken-and-egg thing. How can they get it together when they are under siege?

  • Gin Kilgore

    Wow. Have we met before? Do you know me? My family? My work? My history? I am not going to engage further. Guess I better flutter up my white lady SJW cape and focus on more productive conversations (and actions).

  • Charlie Short

    You’ve assigned a label to her to make certain arguments, that’s a classic gaslighting, internet troll technique.

  • Dale_Doback

    She made the argument Charlie, not me. Actually, she (and you) have yet to address any of the points I initially made, but that hasn’t stopped you from calling me a troll. :) … See how odd this all is?

  • Gin Kilgore

    OK, at this point, you are really making assumptions and verging on spreading false information.
    1) I am not a SJW because I don’t do nearly enough work to warrant even being talked about.
    2) I am not proud. If anything, I carry a great deal of shame (not poor pitiful me white lady fragile tears shame) for not being more active and effective.
    3) I don’t sleep well at night for all of the reasons above and more.

  • Charlie Short

    See my above comments on your original post.

  • Dale_Doback

    I agree with much of your first paragraph, I never said anything about this being the end-all/be-all strategy for policing. I was merely quoting what the officer said and trying to put it into perspective.

    Where you go off the rails is your second comment. Years of “inequity”, are you serious? It’s 2018 Charlie, that argument is really, really getting old. And it’s not just me saying this, there’s actually a social awakening happening within the black community to push back on this professional victimhood mentality. It’s honestly stunning how people can even still claim (in 2018) that “racism” and the like are the biggest problems facing black youth. Not only is it just flat out wrong (a corrupt narrative pimped by a corrupt media that wants to see us divided for their clicks and profit), but it’s actually rather socially toxic. It’s why things in the black community are getting worse (exponentially), and not better.

  • Dale_Doback

    I know you feel this “shame” Gin, it’s why I said what I said. White-guilt SJWs are running amok across the country – and frankly- making things much, much worse. People of color aren’t our play-things, they’re not our props to wave around in the hopes of making us feel better about ourselves … or … take away that “white-guilt/shame.”

    If we truly want to help the black community (which it sounds like you do), then it’s time to actually get on the right side. And the poverty pimps, SJWs and leftists regressives who want to do nothing but keep blacks in their place as “victims,” are *not* the way we affect real change. How many generations do we go through before more people realize that?

  • Gin Kilgore

    Please note my above parenthetical. To be more clear. . . I am not looking for props. I am not looking for someone to make me feel good. Please answer my question. . . do we know each other personally? I ask earnestly, not defensively. Trust me, I know I am not beyond reproach in terms of your critiques. But I still think your comments/presumptions about me (and the hostility simmering around them) are off base. But at this point, I know I am wasting space with this public back and forth, so I will try to refrain unless you really keep digging in and making this about me. Which is kind of weird.

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