A recent Tampa Bay Times expose revealed that Tampa police write more bike tickets than the cities surrounding it combined. Those tickets are for things including not using lights at night, riding close to the curb and keeping hands on handlebars.
Not surprisingly, eighty percent of those stopped are African American or black. Apparently the police are racially profiling blacks on bikes – some as young as three years old — because they claim to be super gung ho about bike safety.
Or maybe because tickets – as places like Ferguson, Missouri have shown us – are a great source of revenue for municipalities. Cities continue to reap money from black and brown people through police departments.
The ACLU, which has sued other cities in the U.S. around this very issue reports:
The Tampa Bay Times reviewed 12 years of data on civil traffic citations in Hillsborough County, Florida, and discovered that the Tampa Police Department issues an astronomically high number of bike tickets, overwhelmingly to Blacks. From 20o3 to 2015, Tampa police wrote more than 10,000 bike tickets and issued 79 percent of them to Blacks — even though Blacks comprise only 26 percent of the Tampa population.
In the past three years, Tampa police wrote more bike tickets than the combined total number of tickets issued in four of the five largest Florida cities. Those targeted, the paper found, are concentrated in Tampa’s poor Black communities.
Equally disturbing is the conduct that police are choosing to sanction, including the ticketing of children. ACLU review of the data shows that in 2014, Tampa police issued 70 tickets for “bike riding w/no hands” — all but three went to Blacks. During the 12-year period studied, at least 142 bike tickets were issued to kids aged 15 and under, including children as young as three. All but 9 of these children are Black or Hispanic.
Not only are children being stopped and ticketed, but the police want older folks to have receipts for their bikes (ostensibly to prove they are not stolen).
The paper reports that Alphonso Lee King was stopped by police and had his bicycle confiscated because the 56-year-old could not provide a receipt to prove the bike was his.
The Tampa Bay Times says that these hese tickets can have dire repercussions including driver’s license suspensions and reports to collection agencies when people — even children as young as 11 years old — cannot afford to pay.
According to the ACLU, the outgoing police chief says that bike tickets are issued to people allegedly involved in criminal activity but the Tampa Bay Times’ finds that only 20 percent of the adults ticketed in 2014 were arrested for criminal activity in the course of the bike stop.
Which means that 80% of those stopped were innocent – the same 80-90% innocent stopped for the few guilty in other Stop and Frisk cities like New York.
Even today, the ACLU reports that Tampa is not alone in police profiling Black kids on bicycles. Reports out of Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Michigan also suggest a problem.
The Tampa Police Department has agreed to let Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) review its program. But the ACLU wants a definitive review that includes an investigation into racial profiling and civil rights violations as well as meeting with rights groups and faith leaders to discuss bicycle enforcement and reforms to address racial disparities in policing.
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