Another Case of a Black Divvy Rider Stopped and Searched Near Chicago and State

Today an officer wrote a ticket to Hakeem Appling for sitting on some steps. Last month he was arrested for biking on the sidewalk on a Divvy. Photo: John Greenfield
Today an officer wrote a ticket to Hakeem Appling for sitting on some steps. Last month he was arrested for biking on the sidewalk on a Divvy. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

A Divvy rider bikes on the sidewalk at Division and Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield
A Divvy rider bikes on the sidewalk at Division and Dearborn this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

A Divvy rider pedals across the plaza by the Old Water Tower. Photo: John Greenfield
A Divvy rider pedals across the plaza by the Old Water Tower this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Banner for our fundraising campaign that says Donate and help us win a $50,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust to hire a new reporter

  • CIAC

    My God! Greenfield is trying really hard to find evidence of racial bias for biking on the sidewalk downtown and he’s cited two cases where a black person was stopped for this reason. But in both of those cases the bike the person was riding WAS stolen. Greenfield still hasn’t even managed to find anyone stopped downtown whose bike wasn’t stolen and yet he’s wrote two long articles about this issue.

  • Tooscrapps

    I think ticketing people for sidewalk riding, regardless of race, is a waste of resources. A warning or “move along to the street” would suffice (much like police do to motorist who stop bike lanes and bus stops). In high pedestrian areas, a citation may be warranted if the cyclist is egregious or endangering others.

    However, Divvy theft is clearly prevalent and a detriment to the system, and I’m 100% alright with officers using sidwalk stops to determine if the bikes are stolen or mislaid (yeah, right). If they are, arrested is warranted, if they aren’t, send the person on their way with the above.

  • Anne A

    There is a long history of problems (fights, robberies, etc.) in the Chicago & State area, especially near the McDonald’s, so this is a priority spot for CPD. It doesn’t surprise me that this would surface as a location for black Divvy riders being profiled, because there are so many problems in this location.

  • BlueFairlane

    But that leads to the tricky question of who the police stop to check for stolen Divvies. Is anybody on a Divvy subject to being stopped at any time? Because that seems awfully police-statey to me, and it makes me far less likely to want to ride a Divvy. Or is there some factor that makes police choose only certain people to stop? What about a person’s appearance might make a cop more likely to think a Divvy is stolen? I wonder.

  • Tooscrapps

    For the same reason you can’t just pull over a motorist, you can’t just stop someone for being on a Divvy. However, the police can use traffic violations like rolling through a stop sign or pedaling through a stale red as cause. Again, much like sidewalk riding, I don’t necessarily think those should warrant citations unless they are egregious.

    Maybe being on a Divvy makes you visible to the police. If there was an rash of the same make and model of cars being stolen in Chicago, don’t you think the police would pay more attention to those cars? Shouldn’t they?

  • Waymond H. Smith

    Are you OK with stopping whites that ride on the sidewalk?? Because that’s the real issue that these reporters will not address directly. They are afraid to face this issue of racial profiling. They would rather “tiptoe” around the issue!

  • You Know!

    Could it be possible that the arresting officer had previous contacts with Appling, Knowing he had a history of thievery ? Why is it that the race of the criminal has any bearing on apprehending them and prosecuting them.

  • Waymond H. Smith

    No, they are only stopping people of color who are riding bicycles (any type) on the sidewalks.

  • Tooscrapps

    Yes, its ok to stop anyone riding on the sidewalk. I think ticketing for the act of riding on the sidewalk is generally a waste of time, but still should be discouraged.

    If they are on their own bike, send them on their way with a warning.

    If they are on a Divvy and given the rash of thefts, it’s reasonable to inquire about the possession of the Divvy. If they Divvy is legitimate, send them on their way. If it’s not, arrest or ticket them.

  • Jeremy

    Divvy claims to be retrofitting the bike docks. Has anyone seen the changes? I just looked at their twitter profile, and they don’t have any photos posted of the dock alterations.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Even if an individual has a prior history of theft convictions (which doesn’t appear to be the case with Appling) that doesn’t give police carte blanche to handcuff and search them when they encounter the person on the street and there’s no evidence of lawbreaking (which does appear to be the case with Appling.)

  • johnaustingreenfield

    We’re not addressing the issue of whether it would be OK to stop whites riding Divvies on the sidewalk and tiptoeing arounf the issue of racial profiling?

    “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.”

  • rohmen

    That’s obviously what’s happening. I’d wager that if someone pushed CPD on the issue, they’d try and argue that they stop anyone riding on the sidewalk in certain areas they’ve identified as high-crime in order to claim they’re acting race-neutral, but those areas they target (outside of the Chicago/State corridor) happen to all clearly be areas with majority-POC population. These recent stops cut to the heart of it all more, for sure.

    The problem with profiling is that it appears to work at first glance—as we’re hearing about two stops, and two arrests for stolen bikes. BUT, at what cost, given that we’re not hearing about the other countless stops that didn’t net a thief. I think it’s fairly safe to assume the 365 people ticketed in North Lawndale didn’t get caught for larger criminal activity, and the CPD is unlikely to ever share how successful doing random stops of people sidewalk riding in those neighborhoods is at catching larger crimes like illegal guns, etc.

    Catching two petty criminals isn’t worth alienating and oppressing POC in this City, and profiling strategies have been shown not work in places like NYC in the long term that embraced them heavily at times. Hopefully CPD and this administration get that message soon.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Is anybody on a Divvy subject to being stopped at any time?” In theory, no, just people who are breaking traffic laws.

    Zero-tolerance enforcement of sidewalk riding and other infractions by Divvy riders as a strategy to recover stolen bikes isn’t necessarily problematic, as long as it’s being applied evenly to people of all races.

    On the other hand, I’d argue that downtown police resources would be much better used on motor vehicle enforcement, which could help save lives, rather than simply recover stolen property.

  • rohmen

    It’s pretty settled that you can profile and use minor traffic violations to stop people and investigate for larger criminal issues. That said, I’d argue that police still have a duty to do that level of acceptable (I say that in legal terms, not how I morally view it) profiling in a racially-neutral way, meaning they can pick an area to target, but they better have records supporting that they stop anyone in the targeted areas for a violation, not just POC.

    CPD gets away with not acting racially-neural in a lot of areas they target because quite frankly given the hyper-segregated nature of this City there’s not a lot of white ppl riding bikes in West Garfield Park or North Lawndale, but what they appear to be doing in the River North areas is a lot more suspect, and shows the potential reality of how CPD is functioning on the street level. It’s not a good look.

  • Tooscrapps

    I understand, bu its very hard to quantify your first argument. Best practice would be to stop all people biking on the sidewalk.
    – If they are on a personal bike, run the serial number against police reports.
    – If they are on a Divvy, inquire about the status by either running the serial number or proving their pass at a nearby station.
    – If it’s clean, send them on their way with a warning or better yet, and explanation as why riding on the sidewalk is dangerous.
    – If the bike is stolen or they were riding so dangerously as to endanger pedestrians, ticket or arrest.

  • rohmen

    The fact that it’s hard to quantify is exactly the rub (and what many of the past challenges to the practice were based on), and it’s the reason the CPD (and police around the country) get away with racial profiling to this day. The new contact cards may help, but even then it takes such a deep dive on the numbers that racial profiling is often easy to see but hard to prove.

    No way CPD starts stopping everyone on a Divvy, or even everyone on a Divvy riding on the sidewalk. They don’t have the time for it. That’s why this is one of the times you’ll see racial profiling be so apparent, where they can sweep it under the rug much better in their other efforts.

  • BlueFairlane

    Zero-tolerance enforcement of sidewalk riding and other infractions by Divvy riders …

    The problem there is obvious. As you’ve reported yourself, riding a Divvy on a sidewalk is legal in some instances. So will the CPD accurately assess whether an instance of Divvy sidewalk riding is legal and when it’s not? I have my doubts. I think it far more likely that they’ll just stop everybody on a Divvy on the sidewalk, as long as that person fits certain criteria. That will inevitably include people who are, in fact, riding within the law. So in effect, riding on the sidewalk in some cases is legal … for some people.

    I agree on the last point. This is a huge waste of limited police resources. It is in fact counterproductive to the overall safety of the city, as it merely stokes the already bad relationship between the CPD and the black community.

  • BlueFairlane

    No, I do not believe the law should be applied more strictly against people simply because they happen to drive a particular model car. I mean, I drive a Honda Civic, one of the most popular cars among thieves. I do not feel I should therefore be subjected to added scrutiny others don’t endure, simply because I have an affection for fuel efficiency.

  • Tooscrapps

    I would hope that if 50 or 100 bright blue 2017 Honda Civics were stolen over a period of a few weeks, that the police would give them a little extra scrutiny on the street.

  • CWBChicago

    John, we at CWBChicago informed you the night before publication that Mr. Appling ” is well-known to the police in the 18th district and especially as a troublemaker at State and Chicago.” You did not inquire further until after publication.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    With all due respect to your reporting skills (nice work documenting the missing Divvy bikes issue), when an anonymous writer at a crime blog labels someone a “troublemaker,” I don’t feel compelled to follow up for more info.

    Since you contacted me the morning after publication to remind me that Appling is a “troublemaker,” I asked if that meant he was simply someone the police don’t like, or if there’s specific illegal behavior they can point to. That’s when you alerted me to the three prior arrests.

    Two of the arrests were for possessing moderate amounts of marijuana, and you mentioned that police described Appling as “a known drug dealer.” Whether or not that’s a fair label, it’s worth noting that while Black men are currently being arrested in Chicago for selling recreational pot, it’s likely that in the not-too-distant future white men will be getting rich doing the same thing here legally.

  • You Know!

    Why didn’t you video the incident . Your third person account is total nonsense! Think about when your wife tells you she’s not having an affair but you have suspicions . Staying out late,after shave aroma on her blouse, gifts from anonymous. You are going to treat her differently due to her past practices.

  • CIAC

    Let’s try this one more time. I simply find it notable, and I think this is a reasonable point, that both instances that Greenfield has highlighted (in this and his last blog post) to suggest that police are stopping black people on the north side without sufficient reason involved people who were riding stolen bikes. Yes, the correct outcome doesn’t mean a stop was necessarily justified. But given the fact that we don’t have all the information it just seems a little questionable to me why there would be the assumption of wrongdoing on the police’s part when the person stopped was found to have been on a stolen bike. I stated this in a comment here just under 24 hours ago. For reasons that are not apparent to me, that comment was deleted. I don’t think it was any more contentious than this post (OK, it did contain the phrase “my God!”, but that’s about it). Now we find out strong evidence for this second person that there was much greater context to the arrest. We should not always assume the worst when we see or hear about instances of people being stopped by police. And I do find it curious why people assume police are stopping people because of their race even after it is found that the person was using stolen property. Generally, I think that should be an indication that the police had more information available than we know about. Because otherwise, there’d have to be an assumption that a good portion of African Americans in River North who are doing nothing noticeable other than riding bikes on sidewalks must have stolen them. Because otherwise, how would the police end up getting lucky all the time when they are supposedly stopping people for a simple violation or for no reason? Would people think the same thing if a white person was stopped by police and found to have a stolen bike? Just immediately question whether they shouldn’t have been stopped? I think there’s more evidence of racial bias in the criticisms of these stops than there is in the actual stops themselves. (For the record, my point in the last few sentences wasn’t in my earlier deleted post. But I suppose it’s going to cause there to be a fairly likelihood of this one getting deleted as well. )

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m curious as to why you continue to take Appling’s word at face value though.

    “However, it appears that Appling wasn’t actually violating the sidewalk riding ordinance prior to his arrest.”

    Why? Because Appling said so?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Appling wasn’t aware that on the sidewalk to the nearest street is legal, so what would he have to fabricate that detail?

  • Jeremy

    “possession of 10-30 grams of marijuana”

    I am sure this applies to plenty of white men at bars near Wrigley Field.

  • what_eva

    The general idea of legality of sidewalk riding is that you’re going somewhere *on that block*. ie, you’re going to a rack to lock up or up to/into a building with your bike.

    With a Divvy, generally you’re going to a station, so you’re not likely to be legal on the sidewalk unless there’s a station on that block. Exception would be if you’re making a quick stop somewhere. The incident in this story happened by the Chick-Fil-A which has no Divvy station on that block and the rider was checking his phone (ie not actively going somewhere on that block). Add to it that the rider was well known to police in the area per CWB.

    Honestly, if the profiling is as alleged, it should not be hard to find a victim who is riding a Divvy that isn’t stolen.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s illegal to use a phone while biking in Chicago. Standing with your bike by the curb using your phone in a busy business area isn’t a great idea — you could get struck by someone parking. So what are people with bikes supposed to do when they need to check their phone, other than go up on the sidewalk to do so? Again, Appling’s riding behavior, as he described it (and he had no reason to lie about it), was legal under the sidewalk riding ordinance.

    In the near future, we should have more data about who is and isn’t being ticketed for downtown sidewalk riding.

  • Kelly Pierce

    It sounds like John you disagree with United States v. Brignoni-Ponce.
    In this 1975 Supreme Court decision, police can stop and detain individuals on
    the basis of race if it is one of multiple factors, but not the sole factor, in
    determining reasonable suspicion. Divvy membership is overwhelmingly white so
    race might be a factor as Divvy has relatively few black members.

  • Tooscrapps

    He claims the police stopped him while legally riding on the sidewalk (to get to the street). As a result of the stop, he was found in possession of the stolen bike.

    In order to back up his claim that he was stopped solely on the basis of his race, he needs the initial stop to be unlawful. I think that’s a pretty good reason to lie…

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I don’t know whether that 43-year-old ruling is still relevant, but a couple of problems with your logic spring to mind. At last count, most of the 1,700-plus people with discounted Divvy for Everyone memberships weren’t white, and over a quarter of them were African-American:

    Moreover, Divvy apparently hasn’t surveyed people who purchase short-term passes, so we have no idea what the racial makeup of that customer base is.

  • Ciao Chicago

    Hey John, any comments now that CWB has a story up about the arrestee? Do you think it sheds any more light on your story?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    About the Hakeem Appling case? Not really, although it’s interesting that CWB Chicago (whoever that is) provided a few details about Appling’s arrest record to us, but not all of them, and now he’s publishing the entire list of arrests. Not mentioned in the CWB post is the fact that Appling apparently wasn’t violating the sidewalk writing ordinance when he was arrested, so the officer may not have had probable cause to cuff and search him.

    The funny thing is that, while CWB felt free to chime in with a comment on our site (see above), they don’t have a comment section so I can’t reciprocate. Oh well, we’ll provide some kind of response.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As stated elsewhere, Appling didn’t know the particulars of the sidewalk riding ordinance, and therefore had no reason to lie about biking directly to the street after being told to stop standing on the sidewalk with the bike.

  • Clybourn

    When you see a white person ride by a cop on the sidewalk and not get stopped, you’ll have a valid argument.

  • Clybourn

    Incredibly shoddy and biased reporting.

  • what_eva

    You’re *really* stretching here, John. “he had no reason to lie about it?” Sure he did, he wants to make himself look sympathetic to *you*. Clearly it worked!

    You have a person who has a record of crimes in that area sitting on a Divvy at a time when Divvy has a theft problem. That’s not racial profiling, it’s profiling based on his record and the fact that he’s on a Divvy.

    And let me be crystal clear. I will *not* be surprised in the least if CPD is, in fact, racially profiling in this case. However, you’ve got more work to do here than taking one case that Hawkins witnessed (where the Divvy *was* stolen and we do not know if there were factors other than race involved) and Appling (where the Divvy *was* stolen and we *do* know there were factors other than race involved).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Why would he think that telling me that he rode directly to street would make him more sympathetic if he had no idea that that was legal, until I told him it was?

  • Jeff019

    ARGUABLY? You got pwned pretty bad by a real news organization here, Greenfield.

  • Jeff019

    You didn’t follow up, you took Appling’s word for it and you got burned. CWB tried to help you all they could and you decided to take the word of a man you KNEW had stolen a Divvy bike instead. Pretty pathetic.

    You don’t think CWB has a comment section? Wow. Go to their facebook page.

  • Jeff019

    How do you figure? Banned three times from the McDonald’s? And seems to be in the Chicago/State area all of the time isn’t reason enough to ask him where he got the Divvy bike? Which turned out to be stolen?

  • Jeff019

    Sooo, if police KNOW someone in a targeted area has been busted for trespassing and marijuana possession in a certain area several times that’s not enough reason to ask them where they got the Divvy bike? I would think that any person – white, black, asian, hispanic – that can’t produce a Divvy receipt should at least be talked to.


Why Do Women Use Their Divvy Memberships Less Than Men?

Divvy’s data release last month raised as many questions as it answered about bike-share use in Chicago. Chicago Spectrum was the first to point out that there’s a large gap between male and female Divvy members. Women make up 31 percent of the membership, but the trip data showed that women made only 21 percent […]