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Ferguson, equity, and active transportation

Posted by on November 26th, 2014 at 11:50 am


A slide from Seeing & Believing in Bike Equity

Like many of you, I’ve been following the events in Ferguson and around the country very closely these past two days. Flipping from headlines to my social media feed, my head has been spinning with thoughts on issues ranging from racism and white privilege to our justice system and media culture. As last night’s protests spilled into the streets and freeways across America last night, this story came even closer to my own sphere of activism.

The shooting of Michael Brown and the decision by a Grand Jury to not indict Officer Darren Wilson isn’t a BikePortland story. We cover bike news and culture. But we also cover social issues — like sexism, racism, gentrification, and so on — that often intersect with bicycling.

So this morning, when I followed a link (shared by Elly Blue on Twitter) that led to a publication of the League of American Bicyclist’s Equity Initiative, I knew it was something I wanted to share here on the Front Page.


The slide presentation below, Seeing & Believing in Bike Equity was created by the League’s Equity Initiative Manager Adonia Lugo. Dr. Lugo (a past resident of Portland) is a cultural anthropologist whose insights I often find challenging, revealing, and important. As she says on her Twitter profile, as a cultural anthropologist working on the bike advocacy field she has the background to, “think about built environments, culture, and social justice at the same time.”

We need more people thinking like that.

Lugo’s short slideshow below was just published yesterday. It draws a connection between the Ferguson protests and active transportation and uses quotes from other advocates she has interviewed:

And to further understand the context of the slides — and how perceptions of the police will become even more important as Vision Zero takes hold in America — here’s more from Lugo taken from her blog post on (emphasis mine):

“The reality of police mistrust matters to the League’s Equity Initiative because more cities and advocacy organizations are developing plans for Vision Zero projects, which hinge on increased police enforcement of traffic laws. Vision Zero is absolutely coming from the right place, and it provides a much-needed common cause across the many different kinds of traffic violence. It intersects, though, with the painful reality that not everyone in this country feels safe looking to law enforcement for help.

Can we build common cause for safe streets that includes the fears of racial discrimination keeping so many people in their cars? What do enforcement-based approaches to traffic safety look like when they respect and address the realities of police mistrust? We’re going to start exploring how to answer these questions with insights gathered from bike/ped advocates this fall. Using their quotes, Dr. Echo Rivera has crafted images that shed light on why race matters in active transportation.”

I think Lugo and The League are knocking on very important doors. This stuff isn’t what we (people who love bicycling and want to see more of it) have traditionally thought about — but as events unfold around the Ferguson case, it increasingly seems like we should.

You can follow Adonia Lugo on Twitter at @UrbanAdonia. For another perspective on the protest, read this recap from The Oregonian..

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Esther November 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for this post, Jonathan. I think it is worth noting that this situation specifically touched Portland in the respect that 3 PPB officers changed their public online avatars (Facebook) to inappropriately alter the PPB badge to show support for Darren Wilson, against PPB policy. Not only that, but numerous others “liked” and “shared” that inappropriate use, including Sargeant Bret Barnum in the traffic division and who has been featured on before. One of them was Betsy Hornstein, who was involved in the tasering of a young man *walking down the street* in St. Johns 2 months ago.
    While that is a protected free speech, of course, they were also implicitly condoning bringing racist attitudes *into their workplace* by supporting that type of behavior instead of condemning it. This goes beyond just, for instance, publicly declaring their support for Darren Wilson, because they all condoned the behavior that implicated and mutilated the very symbol of PPB.

    How will Portlanders learn to trust our police who are tasering 16 year olds walking down the street and feel empowered to implicate the PPB in their personal beliefs?

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    Granpa November 26, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    In the interest of fairness I think a link to an establishment summary would be in order. The link to Hart’s blog showed the glorying in chaos and self-congratulation in the event, while participants were taunting, flipping the bird and doing everything in their ability to provoke the police to violence. Despite activities that were clearly illegal, the official report is that 7 persons were arrested. IF that, or a similar small number, turns out to be true, then the police showed admirable restraint. The frequently displayed video of a “protester” punching a motorist displays the embrace of violence and intolerance that they claim to abhor.

    No one is condoning the shooting of Michael Brown. That event is a tragedy on many levels. How chaos in the streets is a healing gesture, educational event evades me. It is understood that the protest is free speech and an expression of frustration and anger, but the delight in the tone of Hart’s telling bespeaks an anarchic glee in the disorder rather than any effort to fix a broken system.

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      spare_wheel November 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      “Then the police showed admirable restraint.”

      The idea that the police are somehow being nice by showing “restraint” is offensive. The police are supposed to serve the public, not restrain it.

      PS: Both flag burning and flipping off the police are not against the law.

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        Granpa November 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm

        Hoards of protesters streaming onto a night time freeway need restraining. They could be killed, or a driver making an evasive maneuver could be killed. The public have a right to protest, and they have, but they do not have a right to put innocents at risk. People who were not in the streets in chaotic protest (the majority) were being protected and served.

        Regarding the PPB officers who violated rules to express solidarity with Wilson, they were wrong, but I doubt that they wanted Brown killed, I think that they understand the pressure and danger of the profession and understand how (bad) quick decisions in an adrenaline fueled moment can occur. but like RedHippie said, we are arm chair quarterbacking.

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      Alan 1.0 November 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      No one is condoning the shooting of Michael Brown.

      The actions of the three PPD that Esther mentioned are doing just that. The corollary to their statement that anyone wearing a badge is Darren Wilson is that all of us who don’t wear a badge are Michael Brown. While I, too, condemn the violence and chaos displayed by some of the demonstrators, that statement ostensibly by PPD coming on the not-yet-departed heels of the federal DOJ inquiry and mandates does sway my sympathies towards those are aren’t seeing the proper changes happening through established channels.

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        Pete November 26, 2014 at 11:20 pm

        I fail to see how showing support for an officer found not guilty by a grand jury who interviewed dozens of witnesses repeatedly in their quest to find consistent evidence equates to the condoning of the shooting. Esther above calls this an act of racism, and I fail to see where the motivation for the officer to shoot the suspect was because he was a minority, or their showing of support for their fellow officer (regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not) is an act of racism or a cause of “racist attitudes in the workplace.” What am I missing here? This whole thing has gotten way out of hand, like an old-fashioned witch hunt or lynch mob.

        You want justice in this case? Do it by bringing actual consistent evidence before the grand jury to convince them to bring the case to trial, and not by assaulting random police officers and vandalizing property of innocent citizens and business owners. What, that’s going to bring about social justice?

        Jonathan, I agree we need more people thinking about the broader implications of connected neighborhoods, but we do not need more armchair speculations and accusations. Nobody knows what was going through the minds of those individuals but them, and it’s unfortunate that one side of the story will never be told, but how we’ve suddenly come to have thousands of passionate experts on this subject nationwide is beyond my comprehension.

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          Pete November 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

          Neither you nor I are qualified to comment on the guilt or innocence of Darren Wilson, nor the motivation for the shooting. Also, John Liu nailed it.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 1, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Hi Granpa,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      The reason I linked to Hart’s recap is because I felt it was the most detailed in terms of what happened at the street level. I also thought readers would like all the photos. I also assume that people have read/will read the more “established” media accounts of the events.

      That being said, I understand your point and have added a link to a report by The Oregonian.

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    redhippie November 26, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Ever thought that if Officer Wilson had been armed with a taser all of this chaos might not be going on? How else are you going to handle a 6’5″, 300 pound adult under the influence who is trying to take your firearm while screaming “your too much of a P___y to shoot me”.

    Maybe the Portland officers where expressing their rights of free speech when showing solidarity with their brother? What if they had been showing solidarity with Michael Brown in the same manner? Ok then?

    If a grand jury after seeing all the evidence while the federal government was overseeing the whole affair, thinks that there is not sufficient cause that a crime occurred, then how can all you desk chair quarterbacks know differently?

    For all the folks who are giving the “black community has no other voice other than to commit acts of senseless violence crowd”, anarchy is anarchy. What about the Caucasian community in California who are now technically a minority? If a Caucasian was shot by a latino officer under similar circumstances, is burn baby burn OK? If every aggrieved community is given the go ahead to burn down the town, that is what we will have.

    Just think about it.

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    Karl Dickman November 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Maybe the Portland officers where expressing their rights of free speech when showing solidarity with their brother?

    Or as Randall Monroe said, “defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

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  • John Liu
    John Liu November 27, 2014 at 5:13 am

    Seems like every blog and every commentator wants to find a reason to comment on Ferguson, Brown and Wilson.

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      are November 29, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      yeah, better not to comment on a non-event that has no social significance

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    S. Brian Willson November 27, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    A Grand Jury is not a trial and hears only the prosecutor’s perspective. Generally, a prosecutor expects an indictment to result from all the work convening a grand jury while presenting the state’s evidence. Federal grand juries almost always return an indictment – it is extremely rare for there Not to be an indictment.

    However, state grand juries, as in the Ferguson case, rarely indict a local or state police officer. Since it is not a trial, there is no defense strategy for challenging the state’s evidence and bias, and is generally used by a prosecutor as a cover for resolving the tense local issues relating to police shootings. Obviously, the state did not want to indict Wilson. If all the evidence had been presented at a real trial (civil or criminal) of officer Darren Wilson (e.g., Brown vs Wilson, or Missouri vs Wilson), the jury would have had to assess some consensus of truth from a number of conflicting witness accounts, seriously redacted police statements, and contradictory autopsies, strange in and of itself. There would be cross examination of every witness. Very different that a grand jury.

    The rage emanating from deeply held racism, and the pattern of White police officer shootings of young Black men around the country committed with impunity, no matter the particulars or details of each case, including here Brown’s behavior, is a brewing time bomb. Our society will have to address systematic racism and the fundamental unfairness of capitalism if it wants relief. The structures of our society are not likely to engage in this kind of remedy since it is historical and deeply entrenched.

    However, the rising up of rage from the grass roots is inevitable and all of us, no matter our race, are going to be required to address the historical crimes because we are all deeply effected whether we realize it or not. And here in Portland, we know of our own racism,including that present in our police that inevitably have led to a number of discriminatory apprehensions, jailings and killings of Black men by White officers.

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      Pete November 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Having been in Oakland the night the verdict was handed down (not knowing much about it but just visiting friends by Lake Merritt) I can tell you the “rage emanating from deeply held racism” was mostly an excuse to harass police officers and break and burn things. We asked several people a simple question: what state is Ferguson in – and they could not answer the question correctly. One girl we spoke with – who was indicative of several people there – said she simply heard all the noise and came out to protest because it sounded like fun. We later saw her interviewed on the news that night when we made it home and she had no idea what people were actually protesting. Yes – in a different part of Oakland – there were definitely blacks who were pissed off and protesting what they believe is injustice.

      By the way if you live in Oakland you know this is nothing new – this happens about every two years or so – but not so much when police officers are shot dead which unfortunately also happens a lot. Is there injustice to it? Maybe, I can’t say, but I’m also guessing neither can you, really.

      You are welcome to call it racism but I have a very different opinion – I call it economic disparity. The problem is not unique to this country by the way – it’s been going on for thousands of years in the middle east. Societies build caste systems whether they intend to or not, and where you’re positioned in life (education, etc) gives you a head start, so if you’re programmed and positioned to earn yourself a living you focus and occupy yourself with that and if you’re not in the position you grab on to what you can – be it drugs, drug dealing, gang banging, or throwing rocks at police officers (which we had just witnessed in Jerusalem two weeks ago) but you have nothing to lose and do what your little world drives you to do.

      Regarding the accusations in comments above that police officers are racist and not there to protect you – shame on you. Blanket statements like that belong on KOIN or O-live and I wonder what experience you’ve had with police to formulate that. Having worked with police departments as a non-police bike advocate my experience is they are just as political an organization as any other, have biases shaped by their livelihoods (auto-based union workers for the most part), but also take pride in what they do and put their lives on the line to do what they think is right. When your bike is stolen and they bring it back to you a short time later your tune might change a little, but if you got a ticket running a stop sign when you witness cars speeding on a daily basis you’re welcome to form whatever bias you wish – we all have bias.

      These cases that you speak of around the country are so statistically few and far between, but – like bike-auto deaths – are emphasized and dramaticized by the media, that they result in widespread violent protests. You want to see the same thing in action on deeper scale? Go to Jerusalem and try to understand why someone would drive a van into a crowd of people and jump out swinging a steel rod knowing the result is that they will instantly be shot dead. Why? Because they’ve got no job, ultimately, and no means to feed their family.

      This is my theory take it or leave it. From predominately white commenters on a web site based in the least diverse place I’ve ever lived I have a hard time taking lessons on class and privilege. Sorry.

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    Jonathan Gordon November 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

    “By the way if you live in Oakland you know this is nothing new – this happens about every two years or so – but not so much when police officers are shot dead which unfortunately also happens a lot.”

    What’s your definition of “a lot”? As far as I can tell, no Oakland police officers have died this year. The closest I can find is a BART officer, who was accidentally killed. By another police officer.

    These cases that you speak of around the country are so statistically few and far between

    Speaking of statistics:

    “Overall, young African Americans are killed by cops 4.5 times more often than people of other races and ages.”

    This is my theory take it or leave it. From predominately white commenters on a web site based in the least diverse place I’ve ever lived I have a hard time taking lessons on class and privilege. Sorry.

    I’m going to leave it. You seem to reject claims that racism plays a role in who is targeted by police based on a hunch and personal experience. And yet you reject that the very different personal experiences of those rioting in Oakland might inform them otherwise. I highly recommend reading further on these issues. A great place to start would be “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. She came to this “least diverse place [you]’ve ever lived” to talk about her book and I think you might have really benefited from that conversation.

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      Pete November 28, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      Quoting a statistic that black males are shot more than any other race doesn’t prove that there is a mass targeting of them, which is what many people seem to be claiming. Black males also hold the dubious distinction of comprising a larger number of convictions and prison sentences in this country, so give me some normalized statistics and then we’ll talk.

      Oakland lost three officers just a few years ago in an ambush. You should also have been able to find that in your online research. Yes, the BART officer was killed by his fellow officer which was unfortunate but also a procedural breakdown they’ve since tried to address. I apologize that I don’t follow these things so closely as to give you web links, but meet me on International Ave sometime and I’ll introduce you to some longtime residents there who can give you lots of history. Again, you can leave my theory behind, but I’m not the only one who claims the root of Oakland’s problems is a history of economic disparity and lack of opportunity, and it may not exactly be how you might read it. If you’re faced with the opportunity of making a few thousand tax-free dollars a week selling weed and crack by the time you’re 14 or staying in school and then using a government loan to stay in college to start your way out in the corporate world making $50K in a land where houses sell for $750K then the choice gets pretty much made for you.

      Oh yeah, Jonathan can probably introduce you to the fellow I refer to:

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      Pete November 29, 2014 at 1:12 am

      Look, I watched white kids protest racial injustice by taunting and throwing things at black police officers, and now I’ve got a white guy telling me to read a book on the subject. I don’t deny it exists, I’m telling you it’s not my struggle.

      I recommend “Pedaling Revolution” by Jeff Mapes.

      When Google updates Maps you’ll soon see a RTOL on Fremont EB at Bobwhite in Sunnyvale with the bike lane integrated. It took many diplomatic emails, phone calls, and a meeting with them onsite to convince them bike riders are more vulnerable when placed inside the ‘pocket’ at a wide intersection. Across the intersection you’ll see the large hashed buffer they originally planned because “bikes must be kept as far away from high-speed traffic as possible to be safe.” (I made them watch car after car drive straight across that buffer to convince them the inside corner would result in many right hooks).

      Point your browser to the 2013 EIR for Levi’s Stadium and try to find where the temporary bike path closure may remain permanent during large events so the 49ers can sell beer to ticket holders in the Great America parking lot without being threatened by bicyclists. Also due to your MacBooks and iPhones you’ll read more and more about bicyclists being hit when Apple opens their new campus because their corporate greed wouldn’t let them put a dime toward the sub-standard class-III bike lanes that have existed on Homestead since the `70s.

      These are my calls to arms.

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    TOM November 30, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Having been in Oakland the night the verdict was handed down (not knowing much about it but just visiting friends by Lake Merritt) I can tell you the “rage emanating from deeply held racism” was mostly an excuse to harass police officers and break and burn things….

    This is my theory take it or leave it. From predominately white commenters on a web site based in the least diverse place I’ve ever lived I have a hard time taking lessons on class and privilege. Sorry.
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    I nominate the above as “post of the week”

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    Pete December 20, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Some might be wondering why I was so passionate about responding about this issue that really I’m pretty disconnected with these days. Growing up in Boston amid racial tensions I witnessed the swing of the pendulum resulting in violence against police officers, but the scope of this trend today is clearly larger with social media. (Coincidentally William Bratton grew up in the same neighborhood and made tremendous progress on the police department in Boston before moving to NYC (and I think LAPD at one point)). I was afraid that what I call ‘Ferguson fervor’ would lead to this, and my heart goes out to the families of these public servants: 🙁

    Again I don’t reject claims of racism, as I’ve been accused of doing, but I don’t believe this is the appropriate forum for that debate nor have I seen evidence that anyone here has much more credible expertise on the subject than I do (which is basically none).

    Now unfortunately as a result of this incident we’ll likely see patrol cars equipped with connected smartphones and tablets that officers will be distracted by while driving (more than their laptops already do, which generally only access police databases).

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