Hamilton Police need to be better prepared for a future in which respectable citizens live and patronize downtown, and are likely to be riding bicycles.
By Jonathan Dalton
Published June 23, 2009
While this is nothing new, and I could relay countless anecdotes of mistreatment and outright misinformation portrayed by police officers to cyclists, one recent incedent has profoundly highlighted the marginalization of cycling in our police force and the impediment it presents toward positive change in our transportation patterns.
I will now relate to you my account of Friday, June 19, 2009.
A friend and I were cycling south on James Street, past Barton. A van pulled up behind us, accelerated at full throttle and passed us in the oncoming lane. This seemed like a needless act of hostility, and quite possibly impairment. Offended, I yelled at the driver an exclamation quite commonly used in such instances.
To the utmost shame of the Hamilton Police Department, this driver happened to be an on duty police officer driving an unmarked police vehicle.
Realizing who was now confronting us, we immediately stopped on the side of the road. The two officers asked for our identification, which we presented. They then returned to the van, and my friend and I waited, for about ten minutes. Knowing we had not committed any infractions, we wondered why they were still there. Eventually, I calmly started cycling further down the road, believing the situation was over.
Just past Wilson St., the van pulled up beside me again. Once more, I immediately stopped and stood on the sidewalk.
I should stop here and mention that while I've endured many wisecracks about my chosen community of downtown Hamilton as rough, sketchy, 'cracked out', and otherwise dangerous, I have never felt threatened walking or biking the streets here. I have never been a victim of violence or intimidation, until the following exchange.
While I stood still holding my bike upright, one officer grabbed the bike, picked it up to chest level, and threw it forward about eight feet, crashing down on the sidewalk. At the same time, the other officer grabbed me, shoved me into the wall of Hamilton City Centre and handcuffed me.
Needless to say, I was enraged, and demanded why they were arresting me with such force for simply riding my bike. Neither informed me of the reason I was being arrested, or gave me opportunity to defend myself. Instead, I was left on the curb, handcuffed, with the police van idling in the roadway, spewing exhaust into my face.
Eventually I was given two tickets, one for 'being intoxicated in a public place', and one for 'no horn, bicycle'. Their validity is yet to be determined by the court, but here are a few words in my defence:
I was not intoxicated, nor did I display any of the symptoms of intoxication, such as incoherent speech, vomiting, stumbling or urinating in public.
I was not interrogated with regards to drug or alcohol use and no sobriety test was administered.
There was a bell on the handlebar stem, which is sufficient under Section 75.5 of the Highway Traffic Act, under which I was changed.
The officer did not examine the bicycle; he just threw it, causing damage to my personal property and means of transportation.
In summary, a cyclist was riding down the road, was passed aggressively and illegally by an unmarked police vehicle, and vocally objected. The police grabbed his bicycle and threw it to to the ground with such force that it sustained damage.
Let me present a contrasting scenario: A motorist is driving down the road, is passed aggressively and illegally by an unmarked police vehicle. The police pull him out of the vehicle, and then pull out their nightstick and smash the car with such force that it sustains damage.
Wouldn't the second scenario be more shocking to read in the news? Such is the degree to which bicyclists have been marginalized and even criminalized in our society.
Perhaps someone on a bicycle is, on average, more likely to have a low income, more likely to use drugs, more likely to abuse alcohol, and more likely to commit crimes, than someone in a car. This may be nonsense, but it is certainly the common perception in our police force.
At a time when our city's leadership, along with the rest of the world, are trying to encourage cycling, such blatant ignorance and discrimination by the police is disgusting. Also disturbing is that an officer who patrols these streets daily managed to misspell the name of one of Hamilton's main streets on the ticket.
The city has identified the need to attract young creative professionals. This demographic tends to prefer urban areas with diversity, nightlife and walkable streets. Creative professionals frequently choose to walk, cycle and use public transit. They make enough money to support local businesses, and prefer to do so. They want to work in the city, and they are our future.
I am all of the above, and yet I was treated like a thug for the crime of riding a bicycle down the street at 2:00 AM. Clearly, the police need to be better prepared for a future in which respectable citizens live and patronize downtown, and are likely to be riding bicycles.
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