A Society of Lenience

Background Reading


A battered sign marks a pedestrian crosswalk at the corner of Bay Rd. and Gloria Way in East Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Siorelli Torres, 6, was struck and killed by a car at this intersection. (Photo by Noah Berger)

A battered sign marks a pedestrian crosswalk at the corner of Bay Rd. and Gloria Way in East Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Siorelli Torres, 6, was struck and killed by a car at this intersection. (Photo by Noah Berger)

A friend sent me an article this AM from the San Francisco Chronicle concerning the fact that pedestrians are slow to get “justice” where vehicular collisions are concerned:

Hard to get justice

Pedestrian advocacy organizations typically are small and underfunded, especially when compared with lobbies for automobile drivers or even bicyclists. For that and other reasons, laws protecting pedestrians have been watered down over the past century. So has the application of those laws.

Police occupied with other crimes don’t track down hit-and-run drivers. The state Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t always pull licenses, at times hindered by the morass of paperwork required to get information from courts and police departments. District attorneys fail to charge the drivers, saying juries sympathize with the motorists.

We routinely swap criticisms of our mutual positions on whose the bigger bad guy, wayward motorists or scofflaw cyclists. A bit of a détente has been reached in that we agree that neither side has a spotless record. We are both motorists and cyclists with a differing emphasis on the problems of injuries suffered in traffic collisions.

The article put me in mind of another issue that came to light on the ChainLink Forum. A group of urban youths had stolen some bike parts and been caught:

Just got back from the lakefront. Biked to Wilson and the path, ran 4 miles and was coming back and found an unmarked poice car, a patrol wagon, and six guys against the car. My front wheel was off but I was able to put it back on. Not quick release btw.

Turns out these guys had stolen a seat and tire from somebody’s bike in front of Chava coffee (Leland/Wilson) right while the owner was in there She saw them, gave chase, called the cops, and the cops found the guys at the lakefront. They brought the owner by and kept her in the cop car to ID them.

Her wheel was on one of their beater bikes and they were carrying her seat.  So what they do is smart..they bike around and find hiqh quality bikes and then swap out the wheels to use on their beater  bikes until they sell the wheel. They were on mountain bikes so it looked strange with a fat mountain tire bike on the back and a road tire on the front (nice Shimano!).  My guess they would have swapped the seats too if they had the time. Mine is a hybrid with a comfort seat which they may not have been interested in.

The cops searched them and found an Allen wrench and several small knives. They said they couldn’t charge them for my wheel theft because they didn’t see them steal my tire (the boys said my tire was just sitting there!). My bike frame on a kryptonite and the locked tire were untouched. I lock the back tire because I have enclosed gears that would be stolen if the rear tire was taken.

The cops kept saying that because they were juvies they will just get a slap on the wrist.

I have been running by the lake for 10 years….never a problem with my bike though I never leave it  in the middle of a weekday.  Now I see I’ll need to lock my second tire everywhere. At my health club in Andersonville – LSAC – nobody locks both tires – but I’m going to start doing it.

I’ve always wondered who steals things like tires and seats. These guys were obviously organized…with an Allen wrench and on bikes. Shocked there were six of them.  They were truly diverse…Hispanic, black, and South Asian from their looks.  Looked about 17.  None large or looked strong…would definitely have challenged them if I arrived while they were in the act.

The punk who had the Allen wrench and a knife was named Leonardo Chardo.  They cuffed him and one other guy.

And no, I don’t care if he is only 17;  he is still a thief.  I told them all they were thieves and that felt good. They seemed really humiliated up against the squad car..at least there for 25 minutes while I was there. Cops did a very nice job..thought didn’t seem interested in seeing us going to court. I thanked them profusely.

So now even when I run or go out to the store I need to carry a second lock. What a pain!

So what to do? One of the respondents who is a lawyer wrote the following:

Reply by Daniel G 12 hours ago

Bike theft is as damaging to the community as it is utterly annoying, but minors are treated with kid gloves for good reason; because they are kids. And kids get to test-ride for free for a few years before they get full rights and responsibility (whether they want them or not).

They are indeed Thieves if the judge finds them so. But that state may pass, so it is not their primary designation, just as they will only remain “juveniles” for another year at most. The assumption is widespread that criminality is genetic or something, and that it is like an incurable virus rendering its hosts “garbage”. And it’s an assumption that is no less toxic to society than casual profiling, because it contributes to policies that mark people with a red X forever, an indisputably self-fulfilling prophecy which creates a permanent class of criminals from which there is little hope of escape.

Second chances have an explicit social purpose; to avoid treating one-time fuck-ups like their careerist counterparts. People (especially young people) move to fulfill expectations placed upon them. And if you don’t offer people chances to get back in society’s good graces and become good again, how are they going to ever be anything but bad? Confession/redemption is the foundation of Catholicism for a reason. Once people become convinced that they are forever bad, they may as well enjoy it.

The Gentrification of the Justice System

Time was that the only folks who could elude penalties from collisions or theft were the wealthy who had clout or their children who could trade on their parents good names. But the days of everyone being sensitive to their own possible plights with justice has mellowed out the punishments. For a couple of decades we decided that African-Americans who used drugs should go to prison at alarming rates. The notion was to pass laws that were draconian and then to apply them only to this sub-set of the population.

Even politicians like Ron Paul have seen that this approach is pointless. It fills up jails with folks whose lives have been turned upside down for smoking pot and in the process cost the tax payers billions of dollars to house and feed these felons. So eventually it is the society itself which ends up “paying the price“. Meanwhile whites caught using but never sent to jail continue to use at an alarming rate. In fact here in Illinois the largely white western suburbs of Chicago have become the hotbed of heroin and cocaine use. So much for locking up all the niggers to stop the criminal use of illicit drugs.

Pedestrians As Road Kill

I don’t know the San Francisco area as well as I would like but I am more than familiar with the Near West Side of Chicago as it stretches along Ogden and then turns west on Cermak Road. Pedestrians in this area are largely African-American and seemingly have never heard of crossing at the corner. What you have is the kind of blatant disregard for “best practices” in traffic as they relate to pedestrians. I am put in mind of the same sort of thing happening along Milwaukee Avenue and Kinzie Street as it relates to scofflaw cyclists. When the number of traffic violations reaches such a large proportion of the daily activity everyone ceases to function as a coordinated mass attempting to negotiate streets and a mob mentality sets in.

I guess that our détente should now include pedestrians. Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists all suffer from the same problem. They break the law routinely when on the roadways. I will bet that most of the collisions between cars and pedestrians happen not just at intersections but just about anywhere along the block.

If you read the description attached to the interactive map in the article it says:

A Center for Investigative Reporting review of 434 pedestrian deaths in the past five yearsfound that one-third of pedestrians were legally in a crosswalk when they were struck. Even when found or suspected to be at fault, the drivers who hit those pedestrians faced no criminal charges in about 60 percent of the cases, CIR found.

Ok. What that really indicates is that probably two-thirds of the fatalities occurred in situations other than the crosswalk. That is a lot and does not surprise me one whit. I have ridden that stretch I just described so many times in the dark that I could probably do it blindfolded. But I would never attempt to because when pedestrians are crossing the street in just about any place along a block you have to be alert. They love to walk to the median strip in the center and then cross in intervals by standing on the dotted lines that separate the three lanes of traffic.

As a motorist you have to be concerned about two things, the pedestrians in front of you and the drivers behind you who might rear end your vehicle if you suddenly apply the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian. But did I mention that the Lawndale Community Police Department Headquarters are along this stretch? Cops know the chaos that the city traffic scene represents and are loathe to try and put out “every fire” causes by some teenager who is crossing in mid block with a three-year old sibling in tow.

It is no wonder that motorists who sit on juries feel a kinship with the guy in the “hot seat“. City life is at best a chaotic mess in terms of the lawlessness of its citizens and couple that with the violence from gun use it means as a policeman you are simply outnumbered and fighting a losing battle.

Children They Are Not

We only coddle children for two reasons, the first is that parents have their entire futures wrapped up in their offspring. No one in any societal strata wants to see their child end up behind bars before they even get starting with their lives. The other reason is as Daniel G said kids are “stupid“. Male children are a bundle of “lack of impulse control” awash with “little ability to judge consequences” and a “confusing emotional existence” brought on by hormones. Take this lethal cocktail and examine it under a microscope and you suddenly understand why people try to escape the pressure of urban life by moving as far away from it as possible. But in today’s America even that does not always work.

There are pockets of urban life even in the far western suburbs of Chicago. You can travel some 50 or 60 miles west of the city and still find places where adults have totally abdicated their responsibility for child rearing to street gangs. And in those places you are likely to end up standing over the casket of your child rather than the other way around.

So Who Exactly Is Guilty?

So long as everyone in society is all about ducking responsibility you end up with no one feeling that justice has been served or defending their bad behavior by pointing to another group and saying “They do it too!

Now you have only two options here:

  • You can demand that everyone be on their best behavior in society and that laws deliver consequences to those who break them.
  • Or, you can simply shut up! If your defense it that “They do it too!” you settled for the notion that no one particular group is at fault and that everyone shares equal blame and move on with your life.