This Day In History, 2008: Bicycles And Crime In The Cities
Print Friendly and PDF

Originally published here on on this day in 2008.

Paul Krugman, writing from Berlin, blames America's fuel crisis on the suburbs, and what he call "issues of race and class."

To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.


 And there are, as always in America, the issues of race and class. Despite the gentrification that has taken place in some inner cities, and the plunge in national crime rates to levels not seen in decades, it will be hard to shake the longstanding American association of higher-density living with poverty and personal danger. [Stranded in Suburbia - New York Times, May 19, 2008]

But it's not "higher-density living" that's the problem, it's black crime, and liberal city governments. A city where there's a large criminal population, no death penalty and where you're not allowed to carry a gun to defend yourself is no place to be riding a bike. If you're wondering why, check out these two stories, one from a white Anglo Saxon Protestant (John Derbyshire) one from an African-American author named Nathan McCall:

John Derbyshire: Late one night in 1973, I was riding through the streets of Mount Vernon, New York, on a borrowed bicycle. A gang of black youths saw me, howled what the newspapers call "racial epithets," and started to chase me. Thank God it was a 10-speed bike. My leg muscles hurt for a week.

Nathan McCall: The fellas and I were hanging out on our corner one afternoon when the strangest thing happened. A white boy, who appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen years old, came pedaling a bicycle casually through the neighborhood. I don’t know if he was lost or just confused, but he was definitely in the wrong place to be doing the tourist bit. Somebody spotted him and pointed him out to the rest of us. ”Look! What’s that motherf—a doin’ ridin’ through here?! Is he crraaaazy?!

It was automatic. We all took off after him. We caught him on Cavalier Boulevard [in Portsmouth, Virginia] and knocked him off the bike. He fell to the ground and it was all over. We were on him like white on rice. Ignoring the passing cars, we stomped him and kicked him. My stick partners kicked him in the head and face and watched the blood gush from his mouth. I kicked him in the stomach and nuts, where I knew it would hurt. Every time I drove my foot into his balls, I felt better; with each blow delivered, I gritted my teeth as I remembered some recent racial slight...

The racial slights were things like shopkeepers following him around in stores because they suspected he might shoplift. Actually he was much worse than that, armed robber, rapist, and several other things, including more recently, a reporter for the Washington Post and a journalism teacher at Emory. He has just written a novel about "gentrification."

But that's the problem that keeps Americans from adopting bicycles as a large scale method of transportation, the danger of being beaten and killed. And it may not remain popular in Europe, either, with riots and such. In Holland, where biking is still popular, Theo van Gogh was pulled off his bicycle and stabbed to death, by a crazed Muslim.

If he'd had an SUV, he might still be alive.

Print Friendly and PDF