The recent trio of cyclist deaths here in Palos Verdes has another angle, in addition to the lackadaisical police response as compared to how they deal with property crimes and crimes such as Driving While Black, Driving While Latino, and Driving While Poor. This other angle is the angle of cyclist inaction.
Since John Bacon’s death, numerous cyclists have reported that they too were buzzed and harassed by a vehicle similar to the one in the surveillance video. At least one other person confirmed that the driver was a big white dude, matching the APB description. None of these cyclists, after being assaulted, took the step of filing a police report. In one instance it was because the driver sped away before the rider could get his license plate, and although the PVE cops came they refused to report the incident because the cyclist didn’t have a license plate.
[Note #1: The police aren’t required to have a license plate to make a report. Note #2: Why haven’t the police followed up with every single person who has reported being buzzed by a similar vehicle? All it would take is a post on Facebag, a couple of phone calls to a couple of local cycling clubs, or even reaching out to a certain South Bay cycling blogger, to get that information. Note #3: This slackness is another example of the PVE PD’s casual approach to this case, rather than active, aggressive detective work.]
The other cyclists who have been assaulted by the white pickup driver never called the police. The reasons are myriad, but they typically boil down to this: Stopping your ride, calling the cops, and insisting that a report be made ruins your whole ride; in some cases your whole day. Most people ride by “snatching” a bit of free time in their busy day to go out and pedal. If they knew they would be spending the balance of the day at the police station, few would do it. In fact, when people are riding before work or before they have to be home to take kids to school, they simply can’t afford to stop–or so they think. And when they think about the hassle involved and the fact that the cager who assaulted them didn’t hurt or kill them, they get on with the ride and maybe talk about it over coffee or on a Facebook post.
This failure on the part of cyclists to report assault with a deadly weapon means that people like the mystery white pickup driver, who may or may not be the person the PVE cops have now identified as a “person of interest,” know that they can go about their deadly ways with impunity. In fact, the most famous case of cager-rager Dr. Thompson intentionally hitting a cyclist, in which the cager lost his doctor’s license and went to prison, only came to pass because of a previous incident in which a rider had reported the doctor’s assault on him. No charges were filed in that earlier case but a record existed, and this record resulted in the Thompson’s prison sentence.
Many have written or facebooked asking what can be done. The short answer is, “Take the time to report every single instance of assault, and especially every instance of battery.” No assault with a deadly weapon is minor, and people who do it once are the most likely people to do it again.
To give you an idea of what a buzzkill it is to report a crime, consider this:
A local 17-year-old was returning from the Telo training crit two weeks ago Tuesday, riding in the bike lane. An angry driver began honking and screaming at him. Of course there was a passenger and a child in the back seat because, role model. The cyclist tried to find out what the problem was, when the cager said he would get out and beat him up. The rider, a small high school student who is hardly a cage fighter, pulled over as he was afraid he was going to be run over, and the passenger jumped out. The rider took pictures, but not before the passenger slapped him in the face (a battery), and the driver continued to scream and threaten him (an assault).
Then they drove away. All this because a kid was riding his bike. In the bike lane.
Shaken and terrified, this young man decided to do something about it. So my daughter, who is an attorney at my firm, went with him to the Torrance Police Department to make a report and have the police open an investigation. Despite the location of the incident being clearly within the Torrance PD’s jurisdiction, they were sent to Redondo Beach Police Department, where they were told to go back to Torrance. It’s called Complainant Ping-Pong and the object is to wear people out so they give up and go home.
At Torrance, they waited almost three hours for the police department to do its job, and the boy was questioned over and over again, ostensibly to “make sure” he had his story straight, but clearly in order to try and trip him up so that the police wouldn’t have to open a report. Then, when it became clear that the kid’s story was completely consistent, and he had photos of the perps, and the attorney wasn’t going to back down, they opened an inquiry but only as to battery. It took additional argument to get them to include the obvious charge of assault as well.
The entire process took four hours, and of course the only reason it happened at all is because the rider happened to be on a club that happened to have a lawyer sponsor who happened to have someone on his payroll who happened to be able to take half a day off work to go help a crime victim. You can imagine how the young man would have been treated had he shown up at Torrance PD on his own.
Yet now the people who committed the assault and battery are going to be investigated by the police, and since the rider took photos, they may also be charged with a crime–though it’s easy to imagine that they will fabricate a story defending or wholly denying their behavior. What they can’t expunge is that there is now a record of them and their vehicle. If they repeat their behavior, or run over and kill a cyclist, there will be a smoking gun pointing at their California driver licenses and vehicle registration.
What’s as important is that regardless of how the case turns out, these bastards will know that their actions have consequences. They will think twice before attacking a cyclist. They may even have to hire a lawyer and part with some cold, hard cash to avoid a criminal conviction. These are the kinds of consequences that can never happen unless cyclists are willing to sacrifice the day’s ride and peace of mind to do the right thing. Like it or not, it’s on us.
This type of reporting has a ripple effect. Police know that their time is going to be consumed if they don’t do a better job of policing cager criminals. Best of all, these reports show up in local, state, and national statistics. And although dead bodies don’t impress bureaucrats, numbers do.
I reflect on the times I’ve been assaulted and have caught up to the driver and exchanged heated words. Never again. From now on I’ll be taking photos and calling 911. I’ll also be upgrading my bike into a rolling video production machine with front and rear cameras. Ruin my day? Fine. But at least the fucker who tried to kill me won’t be ruining some innocent person’s life.
So to everyone who asks, “What can we do?” the answer is this: Report the crime. Because if you don’t, the next John Bacon may be you.
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