Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 18th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
Ricky Janell Andrews was shot while riding his bike on N. Williams Avenue near Beech Street on November 18th, 2007; exactly four years ago today. According to news reports at the time, he died at the hospital later that night. Mr. Andrews was 48 years old.
There were six other fatalities involving people on bikes that year and all of them were covered here on BikePortland; but somehow I never even heard of Andrews' death until last week.
Was that because he was black?
I heard about this incident for the first time at the "Race Talks" event last Tuesday while listening to a presentation by local historian Tom Robinson. Robinson shared with the crowd that he was aware of just a couple other bicycle fatalities in that general area — and that they each had a ghost bike. Then he came to the incident on Williams Ave...
Here's an excerpt from Robinson's talk:
"Fire crews who responded found a man and his cycle on Williams Avenue, and the cause of death was a gunshot wound. He was black. He has no ghost bike."
Robinson was trying to make the point that Andrews was not remembered by the community in the same way as other bike-related fatalities solely because he was black. He then tied that idea to the City's ongoing transportation project in the area:
"So, you can see how people who live in the Williams Avenue District can have a spectrum of opinion on matters of public safety. You can perhaps understand why another bicycle lane isn't exactly what they were hoping for in the way of public safety programs."
I follow the bike beat closely and I couldn't recall ever hearing about Andrews. Beyond the color of his skin, it's interesting to me that the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation didn't officially record this as a bike fatality. According to PBOT stats, there were six bicycle-related fatalities in 2007: Nick Bucher, Jerry Hinatsu, Daniel Hunt, Curtis Lee Web, Tracey Sparling, and Brett Jarolimek.
How PBOT decides whether or not a fatal traffic incident should be labeled bike-related or not is something I'm looking into (and will post a follow-up if necessary).
Back to Robinson's point about race; I'm not sure whether or not it plays a role in how the community responded (or didn't). I can guarantee that had I heard about this at the time, I would have definitely mentioned it. That being said, I think it's worth noting that it's common that not all bike fatalities get a ghost bike. Ghost bikes are a very grassroots phenomenon. They happen somewhat randomly by individuals who feel compelled to install them.
The community's response to traffic tragedies is also random and unequal. It depends greatly on the factors and context surrounding the incident such as who the person is, what they were doing when the incident occurred, and so on.
But beyond all that, now that I've learned about Ricky Andrews, I felt that he needed to be remembered on BikePortland.