What’s Just? A Cyclist’s Dilemma After Being Injured by an Undocumented Driver
Update 8/14/18, 12 PM: There has been some skepticism in the comments about whether Green’s description of the crash is accurate, and whether she actually received treatment in a medical facility. Yesterday I spoke with a bartender at the bar next to the crash site where Green got first aid immediately after the collision. He repeated the same story to me without prompting. He added that a witness was about to call the police when the senior drove off, and Green told him she didn’t want to press charges. Green also provided photos of herself (TW: somewhat graphic) at the bar after the crash (background color matches the bar’s paint job) and receiving treatment at an urgent care clinic. The comments on this article were starting to get repetitive and were taking a fair amount of time to moderate, and they included a number of abusive posts, so I’ve closed the thread.
Kristen Green is a key member of the local bike advocacy community as a leader of Ghost Bikes Chicago, arranging the installation of white-painted cycles at crash sites to honor fallen cyclists. But last month she had her own run-in with traffic violence.
On Tuesday, July 31, Green was biking home from her job a barista when an elderly female driver struck her in a Lincoln Square bike lane. (Green asked that we not publish the exact location so as to avoid incriminating the motorist.) She was pedaling north when the southbound driver executed a sudden U-turn as the light turned red and hit her. She thinks the driver’s sightlines may have been blocked by a northbound motorist who was turning left.
The cyclist hit the pavement face-first, suffering a gash in her chin that required four stitches, a black eye, and road rash. Her bike was also badly damaged.
Green, who is uninsured, launched a GoFundMe page to cover her medical expenses and lost wages. She wrote on the page that there was a young child in the back seat of the driver’s car. “Was [the drive] too distracted by the light of her… grandchild’s eyes in the back seat to see the light in front of her turn red? Was she too weathered from her 80-plus years of life to see all the beautiful bright colors I had worn that day?”
She added that her first thought after the crash was the unfairness of being injured when she had done nothing wrong. Her helmet was cracked and blood was running down her face. In a rage, she threw her helmet down on the street. “I saw red,” she wrote. “I felt dizzy. Is my bike ok? Where is this blood coming from?”
It was then that the fragile-looking senior got out of the car and dropped to her knees in front of Green. “With a shriek and tears in her eyes she began crying out in a way that will haunt me for the rest of my days,” the cyclist wrote. “Don’t deport me! My family!… Please!” the woman implored her in Spanish, holding an expired green card in her shaking hands. Bystanders were heading to the crash scene with phones out, ready to call the police.
Green reasoned that under Trump administration’s current Immigration and Customs Enforcement crackdown, if the crash was reported to the authorities, it was likely the woman and her family would face immigration problems. (As a sanctuary city, Chicago generally does not turn over people who have been detained by the police for other reasons to immigration officials. However, there has been at least one case where Chicago police officers wrongly labeled an individual as a gang member following a traffic stop, which led to deportation proceedings by ICE.)
“I did what I had to… because NO person should be begging for their life and family,” Green wrote. She grabbed the woman’s hand and pulled her off the ground, spilling blood on her yellow dress, then helped her back to the wheel of her car and turned the ignition key for her. Green wrote that as the woman drove away, Green began sobbing.
“I am… diehard believer in [justice for cyclists] to the fullest extent of the law,” she wrote. But she added that she chose not to report the crash and press charges because “my silence became my only weapon against a much bigger war [over] invisible borders carried out and perpetuated by our careless world leaders.”
Since no police report means no compensation for her financial losses, she launched the GoFund me, and the local bike community has stepped up to help her, chipping in nearly $5,000 in a mere two days. She hasn’t received her medical bills yet, but she stated that she will donate any leftover funds to Chicago Family Biking, the Active Transportation Alliance, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
It’s fortunate that Green’s injuries were relatively minor and that other cyclists came forward to help her, partly out of gratitude for all her work to support the bike community. Still, she faced a moral predicament. What’s the right thing to do if a driver injures you, and your only chance for compensation may be to turn them in, but that could result in them facing an immigration crisis under an unjust crackdown? Green chose to be compassionate.