Paul Andrews

Police arrest cyclist: A double standard?

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes on November 20, 2009 at 9:49 am

Seattle Times: “A 32-year-old bicyclist accused of running over a 6-year-old boy near Pike Place Market on Friday, leaving the child hospitalized with serious facial injuries, was charged today with vehicular assault and hit and run.”

Re this incident, where a man on a bike apparently hit a 6-year-old boy in a crosswalk, we are impressed with the alacrity that police exercised in tracking down and arresting a suspect.

We can’t help but make some observations, though:

If a car had hit the boy, it would not have made the news. The boy was injured, but if you don’t die in a car-pedestrian accident, you don’t get a headline.

If a car had hit the boy, it’s doubtful an arrest would have been made so quickly.

If a car had hit a cyclist in similar circumstances, no way would an arrest have been made so quickly — if ever. Cars can kill cyclists with no arrest being made. It’s already happened 4 times this year in Seattle, the most notorious being Kevin Black, run over by a van. The investigation took months, and the judicial system wound up declaring it could take no action. (Black’s distraught family subsequently filed a wrongful death suit.)

We think the case with the 6-year-old is the way traffic justice should work. If the police report is correct, this is indeed a case of vehicular assault and hit-and-run. Neither should be tolerated in Seattle.

Our concern is that this is the first indication we’ve seen of any change to a status quo that generally ignores or minimizes such incidents, and it happens to involve a cyclist hitting a small child.

In other words, the cyclist is being made an example of. I’m no psychologist, and in any case it’s difficult to impute motive. But in making a big deal out of this, police seem to be sending a message that, as usual, cyclists need to watch their back. This is particularly pertinent given that the new mayor of Seattle, the new county executive and at least three City Council members are big bike supporters.

This apparent double standard already has resulted in a request from Cascade Bicycle Club’s advocacy director, David Hiller, for a meeting with County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Hiller notes “an issue of perceived bias in the prosecution of motor vehicle offenses,” relating that “of 81 collisions in King County in 2007 that seem to meet the same standard of intent that Mr. Araneta (cyclist defendant who ran into boy) is being held to, none were prosecuted.”

We await with intense interest the response of police and media to the next car-bicycle or car-pedestrian accident in Seattle — the typical one, where the cyclist or walker is the obvious victim. If there’s a new wind blowing through law enforcement, it should show up summarily.

See Cascade Bicycle Club forum comments queue for additional observations.

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  1. I’d think the hit-and-run muddies things a bit. The better question might be: When King County motorists who hit and run are caught, are they prosecuted?

  2. IMO, this is a bad case to argue biased prosecution. Awful but true that motorists often kill cyclists without so much as a traffic ticket. Still, this cyclist was riding irresponsibly, and compounded his error by trying to run after hurting a small child. The average driver out there is likely to see this story as one more excuse to view cyclists with contempt, and completely miss the ‘selective prosecution’ angle. On the other hand, when I get prosecuted for plowing my bike into a jay-walking Capital Hill hipster stepping-without-looking into the bike lane from between SUV’s, I hope the Cascades will be all over that story.

    • I’d agree it’s not the greatest test case. But the issue that intrigues me here is cycling awareness in law enforcement. I’m intrigued to know if this episode marks some turning point, and if so, what that is. You’ve got a new administration coming to Seattle that is cycling-sympathetic; how will their enlightenment play out as the city moves forward?

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