An NYPD officer used his SUV squad car as a battering ram to stop a earbud-wearing Citi Bike rider who had allegedly run two red lights and ignored an order to pull over— and then the NYPD justified the deadly force by saying the agency “vigorously supports Vision Zero,” which is supposed to champion safe driving and the protection of the city’s most vulnerable road users.
How you view the bizarre sequence of events likely depends on how dangerous you believe cyclists are. Statistics show that virtually every road fatality has been caused by drivers of cars and trucks — but the NYPD continues to enforce traffic laws in a manner that suggests cops often see bicycle riders as a more-serious threat to the public.
This much is certain: At around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, a Ninth Precinct officer used his squad car to cut off a southbound-pedaling cyclist in a painted bike lane on Avenue A near E. Seventh Street. The cyclist was not injured but the incident was violent and sudden enough to cause the Citi Bike to become lodged inside the squad car’s rear wheel well.
When the unprotected cyclist objected to how he was run into by the cop, the unidentified officer explained his use of deadly force with a monologue reminiscent of the passage from “1984”: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength” (video below).
— Garvey Rich (@Garvey_Rich) July 5, 2019
“I put out my hand for you to stop,” the cop told the cyclist, who told witnesses his name is Blake. “You acknowledged me, but continued to keep going. I yelled out, ‘Stop,’ and you looked back at me and continued to keep going. Then, we entered the car to stop you after viewing what I believe to be reckless activity — going through red lights, wearing two earphones — I followed you down St. Marks Place and then you run another red light. … Then I go over the loudspeaker and say, ‘Bicyclist, stop!’ Again, you look over and acknowledge and continue to keep going. Now, at this point, you’re [going to be] forcibly stopped. Because now you’re riding recklessly, and you’re refusing to stop after multiple lawful orders that you acknowledged. So I am going to use whatever means necessary to stop you, OK? And that’s for your safety.”
Let the record show that several people in the crowd of onlookers laughed out loud at that point. “This was for my safety?” the cyclist asked.
The officer continued, “Yes. This is for your safety. It absolutely is.”
The cyclist told the officer that he used far too much force — so much force, in fact, that the tire broke off from the Citi Bike. “Officer, you have a bullet-proof armored door. Do you understand how heavy that is?”
His protestations went for naught.
Streetsblog reached out to the NYPD for a reminder on when officers are allowed to use deadly force, but was given only the following statement from spokeswoman Detective Sophia Mason:
The NYPD vigorously supports Vision Zero and promotes safety for pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists. The N.Y.P.D. is also implementing the NYC Citywide Bicycle Safe Passage Plan. In this incident, police officers observed the cyclist committing multiple traffic infractions and issued summonses for running through two steady red lights, operating a bicycle while having both headphones fastened to his ears, and failing to comply with a lawful order. When approached by officers, the individual jumped his bike and it became wedged in between the police vehicle and a parked vehicle.
The agency declined to answer follow-up questions, including how the officers “approached” and how the bicycle became “wedged.”
The officer’s behavior appears to violate NYPD standards. According to the NYPD patrol guide, “The primary duty of all members of the service is to protect human life, including the lives of individuals being placed in police custody.”
NYPD officers are allowed to use force to protect themselves and others from loss of life, but the patrol guide makes it clear that using deadly force must be commensurate with the circumstances:
Force may be used when it is reasonable to ensure the safety of a member of the service or a third person, or otherwise protect life, or when it is reasonable to place a person in custody or to prevent escape from custody. In all circumstances, any application or use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances. If the force used is unreasonable under the circumstances, it will be deemed excessive and in violation of department policy.
The NYPD declined to tell Streetsblog if the incident in question is under investigation. It is important to note that the collision with the cyclist comes as Mayor de Blasio has ordered the NYPD and Department of Transportation to draw up emergency plans to protect bike riders — 15 of whom have been killed by drivers this year.
It’s obviously not the first time that the NYPD has been accused of using excessive force against cyclists. Earlier this year, after a cyclist was killed by a truck driver in Midtown, a subsequent crackdown against cyclists led to an NYPD officer tackling a bike rider to get him to stop — an incident that led to a massive protest at the Midtown North stationhouse.
Footage from midtown north precinct @NYPDMTN tackling riders of color and confiscating bikes #bikeNYC @NYCSpeakerCoJo 46th Street and 9th Avenue @GershKuntzman @sydneyp1234 @ChristRobbins @seancoughlinnyc @Chekpeds @dahvnyc pic.twitter.com/9WOWMW8P9h
— Chelsea Skye (@pekochel) February 7, 2019
Roughly a dozen cyclists have been killed since that protest in February.