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Hate Crimes

Hatred, prejudice, and intolerance is alive and well here in the South. For that matter it is alive and well in most of the US, and in other parts of the world, especially in the so called “Civilized” world.

Countries like Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, places where people are educated and well informed, and you would not expect such base behavior.

It is against the law in most of these civilized countries to show intolerance to another based on their race, religion, sexual preference, etc.

Hate crime and bias crime laws are numerous and varied enough to inspire whole law classes or online criminology courses, and new ones are still being passed.

Most people do not openly show prejudice to another on these grounds; it is no longer socially acceptable. I hear less racist jokes or comments than I did twenty or thirty years ago.

However, if it becomes socially unacceptable to be prejudice against one group, the human race can improvise and find others to attack where it is okay to openly spew out hatred and vitriol towards that group. 

Whenever there is a cycling related story on a news media’s website, just read the comments from the general public. Even when it is a report of a cycling death where family, loved ones, and friends of the deceased are reading these comments; the hatred and intolerance comes spewing out.

If it were the death of a black person that was being reported, these same people would not post racial slurs, even though they could do it anonymously. If they did the news media would be quick to delete it as most readers would find it extremely offensive.

Where is the difference? A cyclist has died, and strangers crawl out from the under-belly of our so called civilized society, reacting to some basic tribal instinct, to make a judgment on that person simply because he was riding a bicycle.

They base this judgment on the worst behavior they have ever witnessed by other people on bicycles. Maybe they haven’t actually witnessed this behavior, but they have read about it in similar comments on other cycling related articles.

These comments perpetuate the hatred, just as racial slurs and jokes used to perpetuate racial intolerance. They post put downs and remarks about the appearance of cyclists, they ridicule the clothing, and post worn out cliches like "Lance Armstrong Wannabes."

If you think about it, this has nothing what-so-ever to do with anything, in the same way that the color of a person’s skin was never a valid reason for hating a complete stranger.

The other day I was riding my bike on a street close to my home, the road was straight and traffic was flowing past me without problems. A beat up old pick-up truck pulled up behind me, the driver revved his engine a few times, got as close as he could then gunned it, passing me with barely twelve inches to spare.

I could see the driver stretching his neck to look back in his rear view mirror to see how I would react. In my younger years, when I was full of piss and vinegar, I would have least given him the finger. I might have even chased him down to try to catch him at the next traffic light.

Maybe now I am a little wiser, or maybe I just don’t have the energy, but I decided the best course was to act like nothing had happened. To give him the finger would have only made it a game and encourage him to do it the next cyclist he saw on the road.

I could have taken his number and reported it to the police. It is against the law here in South Carolina to harass a cyclist, with a penalty of $250 fine.  However, I have emailed my local police department before on cycling safety issues, and have never received a reply; I doubt they would do anything.

Criminology is seldom applied such incidents to properly investigate death or injury to cyclists; this reflects the attitude of the general public. Just as years ago, attacks on black people were ignored. My basic human right to travel freely on a public highway is being threatened.

The action of the driver of this pick-up truck was based on prejudice and intolerance, and had he injured me it would be a hate crime. How else can you describe an attack on a complete stranger for no reason other than that person looks different and has chosen a different form of transport. Apart from that, I was hurting or hindering no one, and did nothing to provoke such a response.

Do we need to be constantly adjusting our criminal justice system? Bringing in more laws making it illegal to show intolerance towards this or that particular group. We need a large section of the population to realize it is morally wrong to attack someone verbally or physically. Especially when the attack is on a stranger and is based solely on appearance or someone seen as different.

To those who perpetuate this intolerance I say this: The cyclist you see on the road is someone’s son or daughter; someone’s father or mother. Yet some of you would run them down and kill them because they dare to ride a bicycle on what you perceive as your highway.

When their death is reported online others will post hate comments implying that they somehow deserved to die; thus you breed more intolerance.

Shame on you, shame on you   



Reader Comments (17)

Glad to hear the guy missed you. I've had people do similar things here in Blighty. I think the drivers concerned simply don't realise just how easy easy it would be for a tiny misjudgement to have tragic consequences.

I, like you, think the best reaction in that circumstance is no reaction at all. That way you "win" their little "game" and take the "fun" out of it for them. Of course, that isn't always easy to do when the adrenaline is flowing!

In the same vein I think it is also important to acknowledge patient and courteous driving. That way we don't all get labeled as "lycra louts" and the driver is a little more likely to be careful around other cyclists in future.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark Roberts

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council took another step towards passing an ordinance giving cyclists a specific civil cause of action for harassment. The ordinance wouldn't expand existing law, as it has always been illegal to harass, but it does provide penalties, at least $1,000 and attorney's fees. I'm thinking of buying a helmet cam:


February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrent

I'm happy to read that you're OK Dave: Even though the caveman decided to simply scare you there is nothing preventing him from making a mistake.

However, I would encourage you to report this in person to your local department. Undoubtably you remember the Los Angeles doctor who stopped short in front of a pair of cyclists. An important component of the case and conviction was that the doctor had a history of harassing cyclists.


February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeof Gee

Reading this blog and other stories like it make me realized how blessed we are here in SW Kansas. Even though cyclists are few and far between here we are, for the most part, treated with courtesy and respect. Most vehicles give us a full lane when passing and wave in a friendly manner. In the five years I've been cycling I have yet to meet anyone that is truly rude. The closest we've come are the semis and even they will pass us respectfully as long as there is no oncoming traffic to slow them down. If there is, we get off the road. It takes those big trucks a long distance to slow down and I'm not about to argue with one.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa

You are definitely on to something, there, Dave. Social trends generally rely on social media for change and for some reason, lately, the auto industry seems to be picking up on the the share the road concept. Whether that is self-serving or not doesn't matter, it can only have a positive effect on driver attitudes.

However, it will have to be sustained until sharing the road becomes the norm, therefore any cyclist who buys one of the vehicles featured in such an ad should encourage this message in advertising by letting the manufacturers know that THIS is why the purchaser chose that model.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

We have a similar problem here. I think the real solution is to take this kind of behavior and remove it from a vehicle code violation to a criminal violation.

Now the police have to witness the act, like speeding. They don't have to do so when you assault another person. Which is what these drivers are doing. Even if there is no conviction word will get around that this intimidating behavior results in a police visit and possible arrest and it should slow down. The legal cost for a criminal arrest is staggering even if charges get dropped.

It is too bad that these things happen in a civilized society. Unfortunately we seem to be devolving into a non-civilized society at a rapid rate, and not just on the roads....

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Brutal story. And it happens all the time. Some asshole takes it upon himself to threaten a cyclist's life just for sport. And it's generally not based on any concrete complaint against the cyclist.

I have found that very obviously taking a picture of the offending vehicle's license plate generally stops the confrontation right there (assuming it's possible in traffic). It's like road rage, in that the anonymity of being a driver in a car allows people act without fear of repurcussion. Once this is gone, people generally behave in a more civilized manner.

Stay safe

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

Well written piece, Dave. It should be published in every newspaper in the country.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLouis

The world is full of jerks who feel the need to show their power over others to compensate for the lack of power they hold over their day to day lives.
Unless they have a pick up for work purposes, truck owners are a prime example.

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

This happened in Toronto Ontario Canada not too long ago. Former Ontario AG Bryant charged in cyclist's death. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2009/09/01/toronto-cyclist-collision-death481.html

This is what happened after court.


February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

America seems to have become, "Land of the Free" and home of the (place where only I and poeple like me matter)
Friends of mine were touring thru Missouri, heading south along the Mississippi river to New Orleans. They were repeatedly yelled at and harassed by folks in pickup trucks. Though scared, they continued. Until someone shot at them! Another friend drove 6 hours to pick them up. Tour ended...

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRon

The Show Me State tried to create the image of being bicycle friendly by supporting pro cycling for 3 years (TdMO). Many locals hated the way their local streets/rural highways were blocked and drivers were inconvenienced for a bunch of lycra clad skinny kids for a few minutes.

I had to explain to these drivers that it wouldn't have taken so long if the highway patrol had a better understanding of their responsibilities. One officer told us that we couldn't even stand in the shoulder of a rural highway to watch and insisted that we stand in the adjoining field instead to "stay safe".

Culture matters and biases become even more ingrained when the front line of law enforcement supports such prejudices. Even the elected leaders of St Charles (just west of St Louis) aggressively pursued eliminating and reducing the road rights of cyclists.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I live in the Seattle area where a large amount of people ride. You see people riding all over, which is great. I've ridden and commuted a lot over the last 20 years and can count the number of moronic events with motorists on one hand. Not a bad record at all.

However, anytime anything cycling related is posted on the Seattle Times website, the string of angry people is incredible, with all the usual remarks. It's actual comical at times to read through them.

I think the anonymous aspect of posting to an online article sets these people off. Luckily, I see very little of that kind of behavior when actually out on the road.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

@Ron, for more on the culture of hate in SE MO, see the video:

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Thanks for the link Jack. That kind of stuff is tough to read..
Humans can be so vile.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRon

I found the combination of a phone call with a follow-up snail mail letter was very effective when dealing with my police department. Email falls through the cracks too easy. The letter went to the police chief with a separately mailed cc to the officer I talked to on the phone.

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve A

Comments are not always anonymous web postings. Check out this actual letter to the editor, published in the Vancouver (BC) Courier a month ago, where a person spewing hatred and violence is given a platform by this cretinous publication http://www.vancourier.com/health/Letter+Week/4250705/story.html. They even elevated his letter to "letter of the week" and accompanied it with a large photo with a caption that, in some ways, magnifies the hate being expressed in the letter. It is my intention to bring publication of hate speech charges against The Courier.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Robinson

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