The Ride of Silence is about lives. All lives matter. That said let me move to the question of context. Take for instance a cause that I dearly love, Black Lives Matter.
Neither the Ride or Silence nor Black Lives Matter can ever hope to be successful if they are too parochial. But unfortunately that is the position some people in both movements take. Let my try and explain why that is a misguided approach.
- Column: Jesse Jackson rallies to stop black-on-black carnage (OnLine)
- The Origins of the Phrase ‘Black-on-Black Crime’ (OnLine)
In Chicago we have been blessed with many laborers in the vineyard of Gun Violence. In fact this was once considered not a problem merely of gun violence, but of Black on Black Crime.
Back in the day this idea of bringing a halt to gang violence was controversial. Men like Father Fleger were vilified for going after gun shops that illegally sold guns that ended up on the streets of Chicago.
Black Lives Matter Came Afterwards
The problem in most big cities is two-fold. The communities hardest hit by violence have essentially the same view of police authority as do most in the Urban Cycling Community. The police are the ‘enemy’ in the minds of members of these groups.
So as a result in high crime areas residents do not report what they know because it could mean physical retribution from those responsible for the crime. And like it or not when a community is unwilling to help in its defense (for whatever reason) it sends a signal to everyone. The police become convinced that crimes are going to go unsolved and eventually do not work as hard as they might. But given the hostility and lack of involvement of people in the community, this is seems an unavoidable consequence. It is difficult if you are the police authority to be told that you are unwilling to fight crime in an area because it is largely black or hispanic while at the same time you realize that the leads you rely on to do your job are simply not forthcoming. And the real stinger is that the media becomes apathetic about the rising crime rate and piles on with criticisms of the police.
This situation has reached a crescendo of sorts with the deaths of unarmed black men. Trayvon Martin dies and the man who shot him does no time. Then slowly but surely this scenario is repeated over and over again but this time it is a confrontation between and unarmed person and an armed officer. The most emotionally tragic was the video of an officer leveling his weapon at the back of a fleeing man and firing.
If we are ever to have Black Lives Matter become a sustained approach to dealing with inner city violence then we are going to have to begin by realizing that Black on Black Crime is intolerable in and of itself. From there we are going to have to begin to understand that All Lives Matter.
That means of course that blacks and whites come together over the violence that is infecting their society and seek collaborative ways of finding resolution. Otherwise all we can count on is seeing armed men walking our streets with AR-15s doing their grocery shopping.
And this will largely be because we fear crime and more importantly we fear each other.
Why The Ride of Silence Must Reach Out
If all that the Black Lives Matter movement ever does is lament the death of black people, it cannot hope to inspire people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together. After all we have spent more than 40 years listening to demagoguery each and every election cycle about who in our midst is the cause of our misery. We Americans no longer trust one another. There is no longer a consensus that each and every community understands what is right and what is wrong and that this understanding is universal. It does not know any racial or ethnic barriers. It is universal.
The Ride of Silence is first and foremost about senseless deaths. The accidental bit is that these deaths are those of people who died riding a bicycle. But that is far too limiting to be of value.
When Central Park experienced two deaths last year in two months of pedestrians, one of those who died was actually a cyclist who happened to be out running in preparation for a marathon. Should his death not be honored by the Ride of Silence? I certainly think so.
This is not a question of whether a police officer ‘died in the line of duty‘. This is a question of whether a person who happens to be a cyclist dies needlessly. And the reason this is vitally important is because the cause of these deaths is a combination of human operational error and faulty human infrastructure design.
Now that brings into question a great number of variables. If people are out drinking and driving or drinking and biking then we have to take a look at what our society is willing to tolerate in terms of risky behavior. Judging by the fact that some three quarters of the fatalities on our roads are alcohol-related you would think that cyclists would be the least likely to want to belly-up to the bar and down a few pints before heading home at night. But sadly our social groups do just that, by design. They even have cycling fundraisers centered around alcohol consumption.
But there are problems associated with the way in which we design our infrastructure. This goes way beyond the simple notion of slapping together some bike lanes. Nope. The real problem lies at the end of each block where those lines are interrupted. But we are so focused on getting lanes that we have all but forgotten to being our infrastructure design with the most important ingredient the intersections.
The problem with our streets is that they do not protect the single mot vulnerable of users (pedestrians) from either automobiles or bicycles. If we want reform that will prevent deaths we are going to have to think beyond just those who happened to die with a bicycle between their legs.
The very fact that as many people have either been killed by or injured by bicycles is appalling. Failing to bring this to light when we bicyclists begin our condemnatory ride of motorists is regrettable. This is not merely a problem of ‘bad motoring‘. It is a series of problems that extend throughout our culture and we have the dead bodies to show for it.
Black Lives Matter Is Just A Band-Aid
If we cannot get a handle on system racism and the breakdown of society within impoverished areas, there is no hope of ever having police operate on a higher plane than the rest of society. Each and ever cop is plucked from the society we have worked so hard to create.
The bigotries and intolerance that exist in each community are like tattoos on the bodies of the men and women who leave them to serve in any capacity. In fact one of the reasons that Washington D.C. is a fractured as it is, relates to this fact being true of its denizens. Senators and Congressmen are not different than the places they come from. To the degree that we continue to celebrate our own and neglect others we will continue to reap disharmony in our society.
The Ride of Silence Is Just A Band-Aid
If it turns out that we cannot bring the emotional involvement of drivers and pedestrians to the understanding of the loss that each slain cyclist represents we have missed the target for which we aimed.
The single worst thing we could ever do is limit our compassion and understanding simply to our own. Think about it this way. We have the ability to consider the contributions of Blacks and Women to our nations history in the form of Black Studies or Women’s Studies. But that is too narrow.
This is a big tent we are under. Everyone has had a chance to contribute. We cannot simply have multiple months in which we focus on each group separately. Sooner or later we are going to have to consider ourselves a collective.
When you and I are on the roadways of America we are not out there just as motorists or pedestrians or bicyclists. Neither are we dying solely as a member of those three groups. Most of us are members of all three group at various times of the week. So continuing the normal pattern of segregation that is so common to us is exactly what we should be attempting to avoid.
Our Movements Should Not Be Segregated
I would far rather see Black Lives Matter renamed to All Lives Matter. I would rather see the Ride of Silence visit ghost bikes, ghost sneakers and white crosses each year than settle into a comfortable American custom, segregation.
We should be inclusive. And more importantly when it comes to the Ride of Silence nobody who does that ride should leave feeling smug about bicycling. It is not the mode of transportation that leaves no one injured or dead. Like motoring it too has it faults. Let’s keep that in mind and act accordingly.