Crime Blog Says Arrest of Black Divvy Rider Was Legit. Here’s What They Didn’t Tell You.

This is a blog post about a blog post about a blog post.
This is a blog post about a blog post about a blog post.

First of all, a mea culpa on my part. It was poor judgment of me to exchange info about the recent wave of Divvy thefts and arrests with a writer from the anonymous crime blog CWB Chicago. The site seems to get its facts straight while chronicling North Side public safety issues, and its coverage of bike-share-related arrests has shed light on the magnitude of the theft problem. But it’s a fundamentally problematic publication because we have no idea who’s writing it. For example, the author or authors claim to have no direct ties to the Chicago Police Department, but there’s no immediate way to verify that.

At any rate, I feel compelled to respond to today’s CWB’s post trashing Streetsblog Chicago’s coverage of the Hakeem Appling Divvy arrest. When I was writing the article, I discussed the case with the CWB reporter. They mentioned that Appling, a 24-year-old African-American resident of Old Town, was known to local police a “troublemaker.” I didn’t feel the need to follow up for more info on that label, since it was coming from an anonymous blogger from a pro-police website. (Not that Streetsblog Chicago is anti-police. For starters, sustainable transportation advocates respect that officers can help create safer streets through fair and effective traffic enforcement, and we appreciate their role as first responders to crashes.)

After our article came out, the CWB writer contacted me with a reminder that police consider Appling to be a “troublemaker,” so I asked if there was specific illegal behavior the officers could point to. The blogger mentioned that Appling was previously arrested for threatening a McDonald’s manager, as well as two other arrests for possession of moderate amounts of marijuana. I updated the Streetsblog post with that info.

I’ll give the CWB writer the benefit of the doubt and assume they did a deeper dive into Appling’s history after our last exchange, rather than intentionally withholding info from me, because today’s CWB post mentions several other arrests, including additional run-ins with the McDonald’s manager. The blogger has a valid point that Appling’s record, and the officers’ knowledge of it, are relevant to his Divvy stop. If the police saw Appling illegally riding a Divvy on the sidewalk and chose to arrest him, given his record he wasn’t necessarily singled out due to his race, even though it appears that the many white folks who ride Divvies on downtown sidewalks are rarely pulled over, let alone handcuffed and searched like Appling was.

But the CWB writer left a key detail out of their post, even though, when they warned me they planned to write something, I recommended that they include it. That is, Appling probably wasn’t riding on the sidewalk illegally. Appling told me that he was straddling the Divvy on the sidewalk looking at his phone when an officer ordered him to get off the sidewalk. He said he rode directly to the the street, at which point another officer handcuffed him.

Although Appling was cited for violating the city’s sidewalk biking ordinance, the code 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.” Appling wasn’t aware of this exception to the law before I told him about it (the police probably weren’t either, though they should have been), so he had no reason to lie to me about his cycling behavior.

So if Appling didn’t actually break any traffic laws, given his record and the recent Divvy thefts, were the police still within their rights to stop, cuff, and search him when they saw him on the blue bike? I’m no expert on probable cause, so I consulted someone who is, local civil rights attorney Amanda Yarusso.

“My first impression based on the facts provided is there was no probable cause for the arrest,” Yarusso said. “A past record can’t be probable cause for an arrest unless there’s an outstanding warrant. There was reasonable suspicion to do a brief Terry stop to investigate [whether the Divvy was stolen], which typically cannot involve handcuffing, but could allow for running the bike info.”

As such, assuming Appling told me the truth about how the arrest went down (and, again, he had no reason to make that up) the police likely had no right to handcuff him. Therefore the search that identified the Divvy as stolen may well have been invalid.

So shame on CWB for omitting that detail. But shame on me for trying to collaborate with a nameless, faceless crime blogger.

Update 8/29/18, 3:30 PM: I believe there has been sufficient back-and-forth about the Appling case, and moderating and responding to the many comments has been time-consuming, so I’ve closed the comments section for this post. Streetsblog Chicago will continue to provide updates on the policing  of Divvy riders and the larger issue of equitable bike enforcement.

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  • Ryan R

    Come on, man. If you didn’t feel the need follow up on the “troublemaker” detail because of the legitimacy of its source, then why did you reach out to that source in the first place? John, please spare us the lies; your readers deserve better, but sadly, expectations and credibility just took a major blow. Just be honest about your agenda; you’ll be much happier and you won’t be in a position to have to defend your technically-factual-but-incredibly-incomplete stories. And how fitting that your “shame on CWB” source, the whole basis for your rebuttal, was the arrestee.

  • Tooscrapps

    Missing in all this is what the arrest report says. You take Appling’s claim at face value even though he states his willful ignorance of the origin of the Divvy and that he shouldn’t have been on it.

    Of course he has a reason to lie how the arrest went down. If the stop was illegal, the fruits of that stop are out. Could be grounds to throw out conviction or even the basis for a lawsuit that he was illegally profiled. The “I didn’t do nothing” excuse is as old as time.

    I’m just disappointed SBC is going to great lengths to defend a convicted Divvy thief.

  • Jeremy

    “Missing in all this is what the arrest report says”

    Or what the body camera shows. Haven’t body cameras been distributed to all officers? If an officer is approaching a known “troublemaker”, it is in that officer’s interest to activate the camera to prove criminal activity and to protect against potential claims by the suspect of mistreatment.

  • Tooscrapps

    Very possible, though it might not show the violation.

  • Kevin M

    I don’t believe John/SBC is defending an *alleged* Divvy theif. He is defending all persons of color who, as the ticketing data clearly show, are being profiled and genre unfairly treated by the CPD.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s what the police report says about Appling’s biking behavior: “Sergeant [redacted] related that Hakeem D. Appling (offender) was riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.” That doesn’t conflict with Appling’s account of being told to get off the sidewalk, and then riding to the street.

    “Of course he has a reason to lie how the arrest went down. If the stop was illegal, the fruits of that stop are out.” IIRC, you and I have already exchanged comments on this point a couple of time on other posts, and I stated it again in this article, but I’ll say it one more time: Appling was unaware of the specifics of the sidewalk riding ordinance when he told me he rode directly to the street, so therefore he had no incentive to make that part up.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Right, if Appling had been interested in challenging the arrest, it would have made sense to try to track down any body camera, traffic camera, or security camera footage of the incident that may have existed.

  • rohmen

    Honestly, I don’t like what the CPS has been doing in terms of pretextual stops of POC riding bicycles, but there’s simply not enough known about what happened here to really form a conclusion on the legality. For instance, if they had a valid basis to do a Terry stop, and during that stop the officers began to validly believed Appling posed a risk to their safety, they would have then likely had the right to escalate the stop to a detention by handcuffing him.

    We simply don’t know enough about how it went down right now to say this was a clearly unlawful detention IMHO. It’s a very fact-intensive analysis when these things get brought up in a criminal proceeding, and we don’t have all of the facts.

    I think there’s also a danger in getting so caught up on that point in this instance, as even if this was a justifiable stop (and it may have been), it doesn’t mean the overall strategy being employed by the CPD is a good idea.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Even if this was a justifiable stop (and it may have been), it doesn’t mean the overall strategy being employed by the CPD is a good idea.” Correct, which is why we’re going to continue to track this issue, including an analysis of CPD bike ticketing data.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yeah, also worth noting that, despite the CWB headline labeling Appling a Divvy thief, he pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen bike, not being the person who stole it. FWIW, Appling told me a friend lent him the cycle, but he didn’t know where it came from. It’s not uncommon (although against the Divvy rules) for people to legally check out a Divvy and then lend it to a friend for a test ride or a quick errand — I’ve done that myself.

  • rohmen

    To be found guilty of possessing stolen property, it has to be shown that you knew it was stolen. You’re not just guilty if you have something stolen in your possession.

    I have no clue whether he knew or not, but he pled guilty to something that makes a debate over whether he’s a Divvy thief or not basically a game of semantics.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m not contesting (and never did) that he might not have known the nuances of the sidewalk riding ordinance. However, I do question his version of the how the stop went down. He has plenty of reasons to obfuscate the nature of the arrest, his actions, and the position of the Divvy.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The police report simply states that Appling was riding on the sidewalk. If there were other actions on his part that contributed to the officers’ decision to arrest him, the police report likely would have mentioned them.

  • Jeremy

    “He has plenty of reasons to obfuscate the nature of the arrest”

    The same can be said about the police.

  • Tooscrapps

    I don’t disagree.

  • kastigar

    Riding a bike on the sidewalk downtown is less attractive than riding it on the street! I’ve ridden on the sidewalk on the northwest side on occasion but I would never ride on the sidewalk downtown, it’s just too clumsy, inconvenient, and dangerous.

  • Jeremy

    The offers of plea deals are often extended opposite the threat of a much more serious charge if taken to trial, and have the advantage to the defendant of saving a lot of money in legal fees and lost wages. It seems like the prosecution offers plea deals because they lack real evidence and want to save the time and effort of presenting the case in court.

  • FlamingoFresh

    Hey now, CWB Chicago and StreetsBlog Chicago are two informative news publications and this pettiness between you two need to stop. It seems you were both wrong at some point and this back and forth slamming isn’t a good look for you two. You may not see eye to eye but both publications cover important information that is otherwise not covered by other media outlets and you should be welcoming to one another.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks, but as stated in this post, it was a mistake to collaborate with a writer an anonymous crime blog, which is by nature a shady enterprise. We may continue to link to their transportation-related reporting if it appears to be accurate, and we’ll call them out when necessary, but otherwise we won’t be interacting with them.

  • Dave M.

    Hi John. Full disclosure, I came here through CWB. From what I see I’m going to continue to follow StreetsBlog – it seems like a great site. A couple of thoughts, insofar as you care:

    – I think it’s quite unkind to label CWB as “a shady enterprise.” Posting in-depth on criminal activity in Chicago is a great way to make oneself a target. I think the determination of whether CWB is a quality enterprise or otherwise should turn on the product it is putting out. Nothing more, nothing less. And when you call them out, that makes them more careful in their reporting. It’s a win-win for those of us who are desperate for information we’re not getting from CPD or the prosecutors or the mayor’s office.

    – It might be helpful to understand why you at first did not think it was important to follow up with CWB regarding its assertion that Appling was a “troublemaker”, then deemed it useful to do so when CWB repeated this to you after initial publication of the article.

    – As someone looking at this from the outside, I think that it is quite possible that CPD is using disparate standards to make Divvy stops which are based on race. I think that Appling’s arrest, given the circumstances which CWB wrote about, is not a helpful data point in that regard.

    Anyway, the more information that’s out there, the better for all of us. Thanks for your efforts in that regard.

  • sam K

    John, your larger point about the police racially profiling black cyclists is vitally important. It needs to be said. But these posts have devolved into something else, and it doesn’t do much to advance your larger point.

    Forests and trees and all that.

  • Courtney

    Seems like CWB is pretty biased. I wouldn’t call them an informative news source unless I’m talking to a bunch of White suremacists or pro-cops folks, which I do my best to keep away from.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks for the kind words.

    “It might be helpful to understand why you at first did not think it was important to follow up with CWB regarding its assertion that Appling was a “troublemaker.” To be honest, my initial reaction was “Whatever, an anonymous pro-police blogger is repeating an officer’s claim that this guy is a jerk.” The next day when the CWB blogger repeated the claim, I was like, “OK, I’ll bite, do the police just dislike the guy, or is there a record of illegal activity.”

    “Posting in-depth on criminal activity in Chicago is a great way to make oneself a target.” Other local crime reporters have the integrity and guts to write about the same subject non-anonymously.

    Re: the question of whether Appling’s arrest is relevant to the question of whether racial profiling is occurring, I wrote: “If the police saw Appling illegally riding a Divvy on the sidewalk and chose to arrest him, given his record he wasn’t necessarily singled out due to his race, even though it appears that the many white folks who ride Divvies on downtown sidewalks are rarely pulled over, let alone handcuffed and searched like Appling was.”

    I still think this case offers some insight into what may be going on but, as I said, we’ll be taking a closer look at downtown ticketing data in the near future.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I agree that we’ve gone down the rabbit hole a bit on this particular case, so I don’t plan to write anything else about it, but we will be staying on top of the larger issue of racially skewed bike enforcement, including whether profiling is being used as a tactic to recover stolen Divvies.

  • rohmen

    Everything you’ve written is largely true (the prosecution often offers pleas even in slam dunk cases, but they do the opposite as well obviously), but it doesn’t change the fact that “theft” and “possession of stolen property” both legally require that the person accused be found to have known the property was stolen as part of the case. Like I said, no one outside Appling really knows, but a guilty plea is what it is.

    As someone noted above, this whole article is starting to have some “forest from the trees” aspects to it, and calling out a blog for saying a person is a “Divvy Thief” when they merely pled guilty to “possession of stolen property” (which is the offense charged when the police do not have an actual witness/evidence to tie the offender to the theft itself, which is often the case) starts to sound petty and detracts from the real issues.

  • Curtis James

    John, you are a good transportation writer. What you are not is a trained journalist or an attorney. A trained journalist would have followed up with the police after being givern additional information by CWB (regardless of the fact that they seem to have a racial agenda). Better yet, a trained journalist would have asked the police for comments on his own before making the assumption you did. You did neither. Secondly, your interpretation of the ordinance is wrong. Under your interpretation, anyone riding on the sidewalk, when stopped by police, could just head for the street and say that their riding was allowed under the ordinance. That obviously is not the intention. The ordinance is intended to make riding on the sidewalk acceptable when it is the only route to a path or other way upon which bicycles are allowed. That is its plain meaning. Did you ask your lawyer friend about that or only about the stop, which she herself said was allowable?

    Don’t let your ego get in the way when you encounter valid criticism.

  • FlamingoFresh

    I’ve heard rumors that the city does not like the extensive reporting of all the crimes that take place (especially on the north side) and so they preferred these articles, produced by CWB Chicago, not make their way out because it highlights the crime epidemic, in areas which are deemed safe, and the lack of control the city has on it. With the city’s history of corruption and scare tactics used I can see why it might be beneficial to be anonymous.

    You could always ask them too and see if they provide an answer.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Police officers on the street are prohibited from giving interviews, and my sense was that the officer who ticketed Appling for sitting on the stairs would not have been open to discussing the situation. I have asked Police News Affairs for a comment on the Divvy enforcement issue and the claims of racial profiling and have not yet received a response. I have also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for ticketing data and expect to get a response in the near future.

    Nope, I’m quite familiar with the sidewalk riding ordinance, since I was working at CDOT when the ordinance was updated. The ordinance allows a cyclist to go to or from a parking space or bike-share station via the sidewalk, and also allows someone stopped on the sidewalk on a bike to head to the nearest street or intersection. Had Appling been biking down the sidewalk when the officer confronted him, a ticket might have been warranted, but since he was apparently hanging out on the sidewalk without moving before he was ordered to leave, it was legal for him to ride to the nearest street.

    “You are not is a trained journalist or an attorney.” True, I don’t have a journalism degree, but I’ve been in the business on and off for a couple of decades now, including various freelancer, reporter, and editor gigs. Correct, I’m not a lawyer, which is why I consulted one about the probable cause issue. She said a Terry stop was allowable, but the handcuffing may not have been.

  • Chicago60609

    CWBChicago reports facts. Getting facts out is their agenda. It’s sad that the major press outlets in this town abdicated their duty to get facts out , since frequently those facts get in the way of supporting the agenda of the party in power in this town and state.

    I visit here Streetsblog every day, too. I know the agenda, but there is occasionally some useful info here.

  • Justin

    I think it is very unbecoming to be attacking CWB for their anonymity. Facts are facts and the writer is irrelevant. If the CWB writer doesn’t want to leverage his/her journalistic virtuosity into personal celebrity, you know what I actually find that very admirable. Not everyone is out to become famous. Once in a while you find a person who just wants to do good works for society and isn’t motivated by personal gain or acclaim.

    Secondly, to me this comes down to @johnaustingreenfield:disqus being intrinsically and illogically distrusting of the police to the point that he takes the word of a multiple-times-convicted trespasser AND assaulter AND drug dealer AND thief, in other words an all-around antisocial dirt person, over the sworn testimony of a Chicago police officer with no known record of criminal or antisocial behavior.

    When CWB called out Joshua’s mistake, instead of accepting the valid criticism with class and humility, he instead childishly attempted to reframe himself as the white knight for the whole african race against a conspiracy of crooked cops and their anonymous media moles. What a joke!

    I love SBC and look forward to continued urban transit coverage, but this article is very unfortunate.

  • Justin

    …and he made a mistake in not recognizing that this example in particular is about a serial criminal and all-around miscreant. I have not read anything that suggests that APPLING was treated unfairly. On the contrary, what would be fair to the local businesses and residents that suffer from the repeated threats of violence, harassment, theft, and assault, would be for Appling to be banished to Antartica. The fact that someone can cause so much misery for so many people for so long is the real injustice.