December 15, 2014 § 31 Comments
You might think that Louis Zamperini, Michael Brown, Milton Olin, this weekend’s CBR upgrade crit, and the midterm congressional elections are unrelated.
You’d be wrong.
Louie Zamperini was the poster child for the Greatest Generation, the men and women who fought World War II and made the world safe for democracy. Michael Brown was the unarmed man gunned down by a killer cop. Milton Olin was the bicycle rider mowed down by a deputy who wasn’t paying attention, and who wasn’t even prosecuted. The CBR upgrade crit this weekend was a bicycle race that about a 10% increase in participation from 2013.
There’s a reason that Americans love WW II stories like Louie’s, the story of an Olympic runner from a tumbledown house in Torrance, CA who crashed in the Pacific while flying as a bombardier, survived 47 days in the open ocean on a raft, and then somehow made it through more than two years of torture in various Japanese POW camps. Americans love these stories because World War II is the last time this country did anything good for the world commensurate with our resources and our capacity. Since then our achievements have been defeats in Korea and Vietnam, defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a national government that thinks torture is a good thing. Maybe they need to read Unbroken to remember why it isn’t.
World War II was a war for many things. One of those things was democracy, which is the right to choose our own form of government and to have a voice in the laws that we decide to abide by. Twenty years after the war, almost 50% of Americans voted in congressional midterm elections, a high watermark in modern midterm voter turnout. It’s no coincidence that this happened alongside the civil rights movement, and it’s no coincidence that we more opportunity and more equally distributed wealth than we do today.
Michael Brown was killed and the killer was no-billed by the grand jury. He walked. People responded with riots, protests, and fury. But they didn’t respond with votes. The midterm turnout in 2014, when Americans were outraged enough to riot over our police state, was 36.4 percent, the lowest in 70 years.
Milton Olin’s killer wasn’t prosecuted because the district attorney chose to ignore the evidence and protect a member of the police. She’s an elected official, but doesn’t have to worry because she knows that angry cyclists will vent their fury on Facebook, chat forums, and listservs, but they won’t vote. And she’s right. Less than 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote.
This weekend’s CBR upgrade crit grew ten percent over last year. Once reason it grew is because various people in the bike racing community did something more effective than jizzing over Strava, or posting sexy bike photos from the latest group ride. They actively encouraged their friends to show up and race.
Is there a lesson here? There is.
The most satisfying thing is to vent, whether it’s by burning a few cars, smashing out a few windows, marching in solidarity while chanting chanty chants, or bashing race promoters because their races are too boring/too expensive/ too far away/ too [fill in your complaint here]. But the most effective thing isn’t always the most satisfying thing, at least not in the beginning.
The most effective thing is voting. It may be hard. There may be huge barriers to doing it. They system may be set up to keep you away from the polls. But you know what? People were willing to die to cast a vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election this year. I’m pretty sure that whatever’s keeping 70% of the electorate from rolling off the couch and signing up for a mail-in ballot isn’t as challenging as the risk of getting your brains blown out by the Taliban.
Bike racing is the same. It’s only by encouraging people to race that they will go race. If we want a robust racing scene, it’s on us. And if we think that a 10% increase is nothing, imagine that 10% compounded every six months or every three, something that’s totally doable if everyone who claims to like racing takes the time to call, prod, and push. In two years’ time we’d have full fields, every category, every race.
That’s the same with voting. I respect the right to march and to voice discontent. Hell, I agree with it. But until we’ve voted, or urged a buddy to come out and race, we haven’t really done anything. Social media protests give the illusion of action, but really they just turn us into one more yammering idiot who’s got all the energy to bitch, and none of the conviction to back it up. A ten percent increase in voter turnout over two or three election cycles would revolutionize this country without firing a shot. But to do it, like encouraging people to go race their bikes, we have to do something more arduous than firing up Facebag and hitting “like.”
The Louie Zamperinis of World War II took action. Maybe we should, too.
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December 1, 2014 § 30 Comments
Although legally accorded the right to ride in the roadway, bicyclists are hardly treated equally by motorists, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, or legislators. It is a commonplace that, as with the Olin Milton case in Los Angeles, egregious acts that result in the death of a rider are simply not prosecuted. Daily harassment, violence in the form of being hit by motorists, verbal assaults, physical confrontations, and the low-level hatred spewed out by cagers and non-cyclists give the conflict distinct similarities with the way that white society interacts with black.
Many cycling advocates have noted the similarities and have framed the right to use our roadways without fear of harassment and death a civil right, one on the order of the right to vote and the right to participate in society without being attacked because of the color of your skin. Freedom of movement is one of the most important civil rights, and a society that restricts it and punishes those who choose to get around without a car is, the argument goes, as egregious as being deprived of the right to vote.
Other similarities abound, one of the biggest being the “separate but equal” doctrine of those who support bike lanes. Reminiscent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark Supreme Court case that permitted racial segregation as long as the facilities were equal, bike segregationists promote the idea that it’s okay to keep bikes out of the roadway as long as they have a separate “bikes only” place to pedal — no matter that the bike lane is filled with debris, doesn’t go where the roads go, is inconvenient, and doesn’t keep cars from swiping in and killing you.
So it’s persuasive to say that the right of cyclists to use the roads is on a par with the civil rights movement, especially when cyclists die on what is almost a daily basis.
It’s persuasive, but it’s wrong.
The civil rights movement did not stem from a narrow denial of a single right such as the right to freely use the roadways. It stemmed from a comprehensive system of oppression, originating in the slavery of millions of people that deprived U.S. citizens of the right to vote, to marry, to receive an education, to work, to receive equal pay, to receive health care, to travel, to obtain accommodations, even to use public toilets and public drinking fountains. These wrongs were not based on an individual’s choice of transportation, i.e. bike v. car. They were based on the color of your skin.
If you were born black, you were denied equal protection of the laws — of all laws. If you were white, as Bill Broonzy sang, “You’re all right.” If you’re black? Get back, get back, get back, get back.
Whereas cyclists, state by state, try to affect their rights on roads via legislation, the wrongs that were fought against in the civil rights movement were the continuation of a war that killed 600,000 people and destroyed the lives of millions. The movement itself had to oppose and defeat state sponsored violence, lynching, the murder of children, the bombing of churches, and the killing of activists who simply sought the rights they were guaranteed under our constitution.
It damages cycling advocacy to try and claim parity with the civil rights movement, just like it damages people who protest modern wars to compare them with the Holocaust. By appropriating the language of such seminal events, you expropriate them as well. Your tragedy, however tragic, is not and can never be the Holocaust. Your death at the hands of a careless texter is not and can never be the enslavement of an entire race.
At the same time we can and should use the lessons of those who fought in the civil rights movement. They looked to David Thoreau and his theory of civil disobedience; we can look to the united front of civil rights marchers as we refuse to accept the slaughter in the streets and the separate, unequal facilities being foisted on us. By honoring the struggles of others and learning from them, without stripping away their hard-earned denominations and claiming them for ourselves, we do the right thing and actually give ourselves a chance.
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October 14, 2014 § 33 Comments
My friend Brent Garrigus recently began requiring customers to sign a contract when they purchase clothing that carries his shop logo. A copy of the agreement is posted below.
The idea is pretty simple. If you’re going to ride around North County with the name of Brent’s shop on your back, you should follow the law. Why would a bike shop owner care? First, because blatant lawbreaking may correlate with unsafe riding. Second, Brent doesn’t want his shop to be associated with riders who blow through red lights, run stop signs, and commit the other myriad infractions that seem to enrage so many motorists.
Brent has a solid record of practicing what he preaches. He runs his own rides out of his shop and doesn’t tolerate repeated traffic violations. People who can’t follow the rules of the road are first asked to do so, and then, if they still can’t figure it out, are asked to leave. This kind of leadership is necessary on large rides for lots of reasons. It enhances the safety of the group since everyone is riding by the same rules. It teaches new riders proper riding etiquette. And it probably results in better cyclist-motorist interactions.
On the other hand, focusing on scofflaw cyclists, in my opinion, is focusing on the wrong segment of the population. Few if any people I know have ever been hit while breaking the law. To the contrary, they are almost always law-abiding. The most recent outrageous cyclist deaths occurred when a texting sheriff’s deputy hit a biker in the bike lane and when an underage driver with a passenger killed a fully-illuminated recumbent rider who was carefully following the law. The same holds true for Udo Heinz, who was killed by a bus while riding in plain daylight following the law.
In other words, obeying the law on your bike is a good thing in theory, but it doesn’t address the real problem of cycling in traffic, which is careless motorists. You can stop at all the stop signs you want, but running stop signs isn’t what’s killing cyclists. Cyclists get hit because drivers don’t see them, which is often a function of edge-riding behavior, where cyclists hug the curb instead of occupying the middle of the travel lane where they can be seen.
Brent’s policy of helping educate and create a friendlier class of road cyclist deserves only praise. Road riders, like motorists, can often be rude; in extreme cases they can be violent. Helping enforce a policy of better behavior helps everyone, whether it saves lives or not. Leadership in the road community is a highly desirable commodity and deserves our support and respect — people who are willing to take a stand regardless of their bottom line are few and far between these days. And if you’d rather not sign the contract because you can’t resist flying through red lights on the Coast Highway during rush hour in order to snag that precious Strava KOM, well … you may have bigger issues than which jersey you wear.
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September 7, 2014 § 9 Comments
I rode my bike to the Milt Olin protest ride on Wednesday. It was in Calabasas, a solid two-and-a-half hour pedal from the South Bay. Milt was run over in the bike lane by a cop who was texting on his phone and typing on his mobile computer. The ride was organized to protest the decision by assistant district attorney minion Rosa Alarcon not to file misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the deputy.
Even a slap on the wrist, apparently, was too much to ask.
There was a soul-sapping headwind all the way out the bike path. At CotKU, no one was waiting to join me, understandable since most people at 2:00 PM the Wednesday after Labor Day weekend are working. Coming into Santa Monica the most frightening thing in 32 years of bicycling happened.
I was riding in the bike lane on Main Street, just north of Abbot Kinney, when a Range Rover going the other direction swerved over into my lane. Accelerating to well over 50 mph, the bearded psycho leaned out the window and spit at me. Unfortunately for him, the onrushing wind blew the spit back into his face. Nor could he hop back into his lane because he’d overtaken three cars traveling in his direction, so he went even faster.
When I turned around to shoot the bird, he jerked back into his lane so hard that he almost flipped his car. I imagined the headline: “Cyclist killed en route to memorial ride for killed cyclist.”
Farther along in Santa Monica I stopped at the Ocean Park toilets but no one was waiting there either, so I pedaled on. Ascending Topanga Canyon I was passed by Peppy, the British neo-Cat 4 who regularly drills, grills, and kills on the NPR. “I waited at the Ocean Park toilets,” he said. “Where were you?”
“I didn’t see anyone so I kept going.”
“Um,” he said, exacting his vengeance with a nasty pace all the way up the climb.
We reached the assembly point for the memorial ride. There was a helicopter, as well as news trucks from every major TV station. The assistant district attorney’s decision not to prosecute had outraged the bicycling community. “Rosa Alarcon licks balls!” said one angry cyclist.
We put on arm bands and rolled out at 4:30, heading towards downtown, a mere three hours distant, through the worst traffic in the San Fernando Valley. I only had one water bottle and it was empty. The air in the valley was wretched and loaded with marble-sized particulates. A hacking cough began and we caught every light, hundreds and thousands of them, all the way to downtown. At one point our group split in half when the leaders rolled through a yellow light.
We remnants didn’t know the route and the leaders vanished in the distance. A mad chase ensued, with me and Peppy doing a desperate time trail to bridge and alert the leaders that half the group was four stoplights and twelve light years back. The hacking cough migrated down to the lowest part of my lungs.
In Burbank we were joined by a rider who was wearing a Total Team Sky Outfit And Team Bike. He looked just like Chris Froome except for his backpack, in which he carried a portable, hi-fidelity speaker. It was connected to his iPod, and he blasted us with an endless stream of terrible music, including Elvis, the Beatles, New Age Christian, hip-hop, Frank Sinatra, and jazz fusion. The music was so loud that when it paused between songs the background noise of LA’s rush hour traffic sounded muted, silent, pastoral.
This lasted until 7:30, when we reached the LA County District Attorney’s office. The ride had swelled as we crossed the city, and a candlelight vigil was held in Milt’s honor. Marv, Don, Brendan, and JF had joined the ride after work, and these four South Bay riders, along with me and Peppy, headed back home on Venice Boulevard in the pitch black.
It might as well have been Venice-Roubaix, so cracked and scarred and chug-holed were the roads. We had lights, but speeding along in a pace line they only illuminated the ass of the rider in front. Peppy had bonked and I was dead, even as the fresh South Bay foursome laid down a grueling pace.
JF, who had been noticeably absent from the working end of the paceline, came to the fore at last and put in a mighty turn. Peppy had yet to take a single pull, and I was about to pop. Suddenly JF, forty whole seconds into his effort, shouted out “El Dolor del Estomago! The most famous taco truck in the city!”
Almost taking us all out with a might brake and swerve, JF zoomed into the packed parking lot, where fifty people stood in line for the best of El Dolor’s offerings. Half an hour later we were standing against a trash can, each polishing of a mound of chicken-and-habanero-bean tacos.
Whether it was the energy of the food or the roaring volcano in his bowels, Peppy came to life. Everyone else retreated the other way, towards death, as he dragged us at 30mph down the barely-lit, cratered asphalt of Venice Blvd. After several miles Brendan dropped off, pleading menstrual cramps. Marv spied a blinking light that said “Beer” and vanished. JF, whose idea the taco stop had been, metamorphosed into a rolling effluent pipe.
We all parted ways on the bike path, except for Marv, who had been smart enough to stop when he found an open bar. I made it to Malaga Cove at 9:30 and called my wife to pick me up. I’m sure I’ve felt worse on a bike, but it’s hard to pinpoint when. Then I thought about Milt Olin, struck down in the prime of life, father and husband, killed by a cop who was too lazy to pull over and text.
My exhaustion evaporated and I felt grateful for being alive and angry at the kangaroo court’s cowardice. What happened to this kind and gentle man could happen to any of us, and on the way to the ride, in my case it almost did. Over a 150 people showed up on bikes and crossed the entire city to register their outrage and to demand justice for Milt, justice for every other person who dares risk death simply by riding a bicycle. With only three months left before the statute of limitations tolls, time is running out for the DA to do the right thing.
Won’t you take a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard? The link is here with contact information and sample letters to email the DA. With prime time news coverage on every major news channel, District Attorney Jackie Lacey can be called to account only through the strength of your voice. Please help. Don’t give up.
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August 29, 2014 § 15 Comments
This is gonna be short. (That’s what he said.)
On Wednesday, September 3, the LA County Bicycle Coalition is rolling out from the crash site on Mulholland to hand deliver a letter urging the Los Angeles County District Attorney to revisit the decision by assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon not to file charges against Deputy Andrew Wood for killing cyclist Milton Olin, and to consider prosecuting him for vehicular manslaughter.
I hope you’ll join us for some or all of the route, which is:
- 4:00 p.m. Meet at crash site (around 22532 Mulholland Hwy, Calabasas, CA 91302)
- 4:15 p.m. Moment of silence
- 4:30 p.m. Start ride
- 6:30 p.m. Leave from the L.A. Zoo parking lot (5333 Zoo Dr, Griffith Park, CA 90027). Other riders can meet up here.
- 7:30-8:00 p.m. Arrive at District Attorney’s office (210 W Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012)
- 8:00 p.m. Candlelight vigil
See more information on the LACBC website: la-bike.org/milt-olin
It will be a slow pace, no-drop ride.
This is a great way to get off the Internet and venture out into the “meatspace,” where real shit happens. Let’s all take a stand for Milton Olin and the other bicyclists who have been killed because some cager decided that texting was more important than watching the road.
This one’s for Milton.
P.S.: While you’re at it, you can sign this petition demanding that the District Attorney file charges.
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August 28, 2014 § 67 Comments
Welcome to America, kids, where justice is for those who wear a badge. Everyone else, your life isn’t worth squat.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney just released its report on the death of Milton Olin, Jr., who was killed by L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood. Olin was riding his bike in a bike lane on Mulholland Drive when Deputy Wood, instead of following the curve of the road, drove straight into the bike lane and spattered Olin all over the pavement.
Deputy Wood was typing a message into his mobile digital computer at the time, responding to a non-emergency query from a fellow officer. Prior to the accident, a witness following Deputy Wood had noticed Olin in the bike lane. After killing Olin, Deputy Wood stated that he never saw Olin and didn’t even remember what he was doing prior to killing him.
With no one to contradict him, Deputy Wood then offered up the explanation that Olin had swerved into his travel lane, claiming that Olin “appeared” to have driven in front of the patrol car. Dead men don’t testify, and neither did Olin.
Deputy Wood, however, had been actively texting up until the time he hit Olin, so it’s no surprise he “didn’t see” him. With nine text messages to and from his wife, beginning at 12:51 PM, the final text message sent by Wood at 1:04 was just before the moment of impact, 1:05. Neither Verizon nor Deputy Wood’s computer record seconds.
If you or I had been texting at the moment we mowed down a cop, we’d be sitting in jail right now awaiting trial on felony charges for second degree murder. Deputy Wood, however, faced no such danger. The district attorney investigated this as misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, but Wood needn’t have worried.
The prosecutor declined to believe the text records showing he was texting at the moment of impact, and instead accepted Wood’s claim that at the time of impact he was typing on his mobile cop computer. This of course shouldn’t absolve Wood from looking at the road, since it was a non-emergent, routine response to another officer asking if he’d finished his earlier run.
Ignoring the fact that one of the witnesses saw Olin, ignoring the fact that Wood was going 3 mph over the speed limit, ignoring the fact that he was texting non-stop leading up to the accident, ignoring the fact that Wood was not responding an emergency, ignoring the gentle curvature of the road, and ignoring the fact that Woods’s claim of Olin “driving in front of him” was self-serving and not in keeping with the road or the experience of the rider, the district attorney declined to file charges. Click here to see the putrid whitewash of a report penned by Assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon.
Deputy Wood can breathe a sigh of relief while Olin’s family picks up the shattered remnants of their lives. The rest of us should also get the message: Your life is worthless if it’s taken by a cop.
Is this how people feel in Ferguson?
I’m guessing it is.
And really the only question is, “Are we going to take it?”
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