Last Friday, I was assaulted by a driver who had previously caused me to crash my bicycle after he repeatedly swerved towards me. Due to the severe lack of response from the police department, my girlfriend and I posted photographs of the assault online.
When the photos of the incident went viral, the story made national headlines.
The police response to my case brings home the trend that cyclists are often disregarded by our law enforcement and legal mechanisms.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) have made several public statements, first in response to the photos and later in response to the video which surfaced in the days following the media coverage. In response to the video, as reported by the Vancouver Sun, VPD alleged that the assault was a justified citizen's arrest, stating "If someone allegedly takes someone's property then that person has the right to use some degree of force to apprehend the person."
The police would not disclose which items were allegedly stolen -- there were no stolen goods as the driver in the video is yelling about papers which are lying several feet away on the sidewalk. The driver had the chance to recover the papers and, instead, chose to drive his car towards me and then physically assault me.
Our original altercation began with the driver blaring his horn, yelling out his window and swerving his car towards me which caused me to crash my bicycle onto the sidewalk.
Despite the video evidence of the driver accelerating directly towards me as I am attempting to jump away from the path of his car, the police have deemed his actions, shown in the video, to be a justifiable and quite possibly appropriate response. The police statements have quite blatantly spread mistruths (that I was in possession of "undisclosed stolen items") in the attempts to justify their lack of response to an act of aggression and assault towards a cyclist.
The police should not be encouraging violence and assault towards cyclists or any member of society, which to many of us brings up the question: why are the police taking this stance? If the police response indirectly encourages violence towards citizens and deliberately deceives the public in order to legitimize violence upon cyclists and people in general, this becomes an issue of concern to all members of our society.
Given the police's role and the resources at their disposal, it is vitally important that they hold themselves accountable to their own errors in judgement and that they deliver the message of lawfulness and non-violence.
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My story has also brought to light the rising issue of aggression towards cyclists on the streets of Vancouver. This is a problem that has been apparent to me and other cyclists on an everyday basis.
Drivers can take for granted that, if they follow the rules of the road and maintain the flow of traffic, their presence on the road is fully accepted. As a cyclist following the same rules, I have been harassed, threatened and intimidated. The recent online debates pertaining to my experience exemplify the animosity that cyclists face on the roads on an every day basis.
In urban areas where traffic is not moving at highway speeds, many cyclists do have the ability to move with the flow of traffic and the skill to move along with traffic just as predictably as a car should. While we must share the same roads, cyclists are often forced to make drastic evasive actions when drivers who don't recognize their presence move into the space occupied by cyclists.
For instance, a car would never change lanes into another car which is moving constantly at the speed of traffic, however this occurrence happens to bicycles on a regular basis, even when the cyclist is riding in the centre of the lane. A car would know that, in changing lanes directly into another car, they would at minimum cause significant damage to both vehicles and be held at fault for the resulting collision.
In dealing with cyclists, drivers often just assume that the bicycle should and will find a way to move out of the way for them. If indeed the driver did hit the cyclist, they are aware that the resulting collision would likely have little risk to them or their vehicle.
For a cyclist, that minor collision can have much more grave consequences; being unprotected by a steel shell around us, airbags, upholstery and other protection afforded to drivers, that is something that we are almost constantly aware of. This is a fact of life for urban cyclists on the streets of Vancouver as is for cyclists on the streets in cities across North America.
When crashes and tragedies do occur, the overwhelming trend to blame the cyclist diminishes the consequences for the driver and poses a severe roadblock in encouraging mutual respect towards cyclists. This trend towards blaming the victim is counterproductive to the safety of cyclists who are legitimate road users and whose lives are important.
For more stories about cyclists hurt by drivers, check out this article published in the New York Times.