Another Case of a Black Divvy Rider Stopped and Searched Near Chicago and State
11:46 PM CDT on August 23, 2018
Last Saturday bike advocate Eboni Senai Hawkins witnessed police stopping a 22-year-old Black man who was riding a Divvy on the sidewalk on Chicago Avenue near Rush Street. The officers handcuffed him, searched him, and traced the number on the bike. After the cycle turned out to be stolen, they arrested him and charged him with possession of stolen property. Senai Hawkins argued that it was a case of racial profiling, and that a young, white man riding a Divvy on the sidewalk would have gotten off with a warning, if he was stopped at all.
Biking on Chicago sidewalks is generally illegal for people 12 and older, but it’s certainly common downtown among folks of all races. That's understandable, because many of the streets are intimidating places to ride. But I’d never heard of a case of someone being detained, let alone cuffed and searched, for riding a Divvy on a downtown sidewalk before this.
The Chicago Police Department has acknowledged that officers have issued exponentially higher numbers of tickets for bike infractions in some Black and Latino neighborhoods compared majority-white ones, due to the stops being used a pretext for searches.
Meanwhile police have made over 120 adult arrests for possession of stolen Divvies since July 1, according to a recent report from CWB Chicago. (Divvy has acknowledged the theft problem and says it’s retrofitting the stations with more secure locking mechanisms.) But unless there have been ten-dozen cases where people were spotted riding Divvies with the logos painted over, or caught yanking the bikes out of the docks, how were the officers able to determine that so many of them were stolen?
The scenario Senai Hawkins witnessed offers a possible explanation: Police may be going out of their way to stop Divvy riders for minor infractions, then checking to see if their bikes are "hot." While that tactic would arguably be a waste of police resources, it would not necessarily be unjust if it was applied to all riders equally.
But the fact that the police wrote 397 bike tickets in North Lawndale last year and only five in Lincoln Park, according to a Tribune report, suggests that CPD leadership doesn’t have a problem with zero-tolerance enforcement being used against cyclists of color, while identical behavior by white people on bikes is largely ignored. That bolsters Senai Hawkins’ claim that the Divvy rider arrested Saturday was stopped because he was Black, possibly as part of a fishing expedition to locate stolen bikes.
To get a general sense of what type of people might be breaking the sidewalk riding rule on Divvies downtown, during this evening’s rush I cruised around the Near North Side and the Loop. I spotted three young or middle-aged male bike-share riders who were pedaling on sidewalks or pedestrian plazas in violation of the law. None of them appeared to be African-American.
When I got to the stretch of Chicago Avenue where Saturday’s arrest took place, there were several officers stationed by the Red Line entrance, near a McDonald’s, and a couple others were walking towards a Starbucks at 42 East Chicago. It wasn’t long before I witnessed them issuing another young Black man a ticket.
The two police officers confronted Hakeem Appling, 24, who was sitting on the steps leading to the cafe, told him that business owners had complained, and wote him a citation for blocking the entrance. Afterwards, Appling told me no one had asked him to move or warned him that the police had been called before the officers ticketed him.
I told Appling about Saturday’s arrest. By coincidence, Appling said he was also stopped for riding a Divvy on the sidewalk and arrested for possession of a stolen bike at this very same location a month ago.
Officer Michelle Tannehill from Police News Affairs confirmed that on Wednesday, July 18, at 8:27 p.m., Appling was riding a Divvy in the 100 block of East Chicago when he was cited for violation of MCC code 9-52-0220(b), which generally prohibits sidewalk riding. “Further investigation [revealed] that the bicycle the offender was riding was a stolen [bike-share] bicycle,” Tannehill said. “The offender was placed into custody and charged accordingly.”
Cook County court records show that Appling eventually pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of theft of lost or mislaid property valued at $500-$10,000, and he was sentenced to two days time served, according to CWB Chicago.
Appling told me the night he was arrested he was hanging out with friends in the area, and when he came out of a store one of his friends had the bike. Appling said he wasn’t sure where it came from.
Appling said that at some point he was straddling the Divvy on the sidewalk looking at his phone in front of Chick-fil-A, 30 East Chicago, when a police officer told him to get off the sidewalk. After he rode off the sidewalk to the street, another officer in a squad car showed up and he was immediately handcuffed and searched. The police ran the numbers on the bike, and Appling was taken to jail. “That’s harassment,” he told me. “They harassed me for nothing.”
If the arrest went down the way Appling described it to me, he wasn't actually breaking the sidewalk riding law at the time of his arrest. MCC code 9-52-0220(b) states, "A person 12 or more years of age may ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district, but only if such sidewalk has been officially designated and marked as a bicycle route, or such sidewalk is used to enter the nearest roadway, intersection [emphasis added] or designated bicycle path, or to access a bicycle share station."
So does Appling believe racial profiling was a factor in his arrest, or would the same thing have happened to him if he was white? “[The police] do show a lot of favoritism,” he replied, adding that yesterday he saw a group of young white men sitting on the same steps where he was ticketed for blocking the entrance.
Arguably, there’s no definitive proof yet that the police are singling out Black men for zero-tolerance bike enforcement as a tactic to find stolen Divvies. A review of ticketing data, which I have requested from the CPD, will give us a better sense of whether or not officers are largely giving the many other people who ride bikes on downtown sidewalks a pass. But Appling’s Divvy arrest case is more anecdotal evidence that seems to supports Senai Hawkins' claim that there’s a racial profiling issue at play.
Update 8/24/18: After the publication of this post, CWB Chicago alerted me that Appling had a previous arrest for allegedly threatening the manager of the nearby McDonald's, and two prior arrests in the area for possession of 10-30 grams of marijuana. Arguably, that info is relevant to the officers' decision to immediately ticket him for sitting on the steps leading to the cafe, rather than simply ordering him to move on. (It also must be noted that marijuana laws are enforced much more strictly against African Americans than whites in Chicago.)
It also may be true that, if the police were aware of Appling's record, they would have been justified in singling him out for a ticket if they spotted him riding a Divvy on the sidewalk in an illegal manner. However, it appears that Appling wasn't actually violating the sidewalk riding ordinance prior to his arrest. Arrest record or no, simply being in possession of a Divvy bike without breaking any cycling laws may not constitute probable cause to be cuffed and searched, so Appling's arrest may still have been unwarranted.
Update 8/29/18: In the wake of a CWB Chicago post critiquing our coverage of the Divvy enforcement issue, we've been getting an influx of trolling comments from fans of the anonymous crime blog. To simplifying comment moderation, I've closed the comment sections for our earlier articles on the subject (CWB doesn't have comment sections.) Feel free to weigh in on our article responding to the CWB post, but please do so in a reasonably civil manner.
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