Just when I thought I had seen it all, something astounding came along to make me wonder about the sanity of the world we live in. As we all know, life is not fair. Injustice rears its hideous head around the world each day. But, it’s during the times when justice appears to be within our control, and it is misused anyway that life seems most unfair.
It could have been bias, or it could have been hatred, or it could have been stupidity, but it was definitely an example of the uneven distribution of punishment. I am referring to a case reported in Los Angeles, California a couple of days ago.
A cyclist there was sentenced for assault with a deadly weapon for hitting and badly injuring a pedestrian near Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. According to a report on NBC Southern California’s website, the Third Street Promenade is an outdoor mall with a lot of foot traffic.
Although this sounds like a place where cyclists should be riding with caution, it’s hard to imagine a bicycle crashing into a pedestrian as an “assault with a deadly weapon.” This could only be true if the cyclist ran into the pedestrian with the intent of injuring or killing her. Such was not the case.
The written report gave sketchy details. It said that the cyclist pedaled through a red light and struck a pedestrian who was already in the crosswalk. Of course, everyone can agree that he should not have run the red light.
It wasn’t until I watched the article’s accompanying video that a somewhat more clear explanation for the charge became clear. The police officer who was interviewed described a scene whereby a cyclist was trying to catch up with a group he was riding with.
In order to do so, he began to weave in an out of the pedestrians in the crosswalk. This is how he ended up hitting a woman, causing her serious injury, which, fortunately, she managed to survive.
The District Attorney, who decided to press charges against the cyclist for assault with a deadly weapon admitted that the cyclist did not intend to harm the woman. He drew this charge because his behavior was determined to be “reckless.”
Reckless? This is very troubling. No doubt, the cyclist was irresponsible in his actions. He might even have been described as negligent in his failure to control his bike and ride in a safe manner.
But does weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic to catch up to your friends constitute recklessness? Apparently, it only does if you’re a cyclist.
As most cyclists know, drivers injure and kill cyclists, with their cars, on a daily basis. Rarely is a driver charged with anything — not even so much as a traffic violation.
How can it be that someone can kill a cyclist with a car and not be considered “reckless,” if running into a pedestrian with a bicycle is? What is the difference between these two acts?
Those who enforce the law seem to think that only a bicyclist is required to keep his or her vehicle under control at all times. Any action which could be construed as outside the boundaries of caution is deemed as “reckless.”
However, when driving a car, no amount of irresponsible, careless or distracted driving is deemed to be the driver’s fault in any way. If you’re behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle, you can kill people with impunity, be they pedestrians or cyclists, and it isn’t your fault. It’s just an “accident.”
On this blog alone, I’ve written about several cyclists who were killed by negligent drivers. Only in one case was the driver charged with a serious crime, vehicular homicide. This exception was probably made because the cyclist was a prominent local physician. Had he been anyone else, the driver would have walked away scot-free as the vast majority of drivers do.
Within the past year, in the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, a 41 year old cyclist was struck and killed by a truck. Despite overwhelming evidence against the driver, including a video of the truck driving near the cyclist, a grand jury decided not to indict the truck driver.
A couple of years ago, a young woman was leading a charity bicycle ride in Alabama when a car struck her from behind, killing her instantly. Only after a lot of complaining from bloggers like myself and local Alabama cyclists, did the DA make any effort to consider charging the driver in the young woman’s death.
In the end, he was charged with a minor violation, not with negligently killing a cyclist. So, despite the fact that she was riding along the road with a large group of cyclists, and he plowed into the group, his behavior was not deemed to be “reckless.” And, he was certainly not charged with anything even approximating “assault with a dangerous weapon.”
The driver who killed this young woman was charged with Criminally Negligent Homicide, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he would face up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine.
The cyclist who injured the pedestrian, on the other hand, was slapped with a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon. A felony is a much more serious charge then a misdemeanor. And, in California, the DA has a choice of whether to make an assault with a deadly weapon charge a felony or a misdemeanor. In this case, he chose a felony charge.
It’s inexplicable why the DA chose to charge the cyclist with a felony when he admitted that the cyclist did not deliberately strike the pedestrian. His act was one of carelessness, in which an innocent pedestrian was harmed. Surely, if killing a cyclist with a car is a misdemeanor, injuring a pedestrian with a bicycle should be a misdemeanor too.
Even though he did not face jail time, the cyclist was given three years of felony probation and 30 days of community service. This is a longer sentence than what the driver was facing, and he didn’t kill anyone.
The cyclist pleaded guilty to the charge, possibly because he had no way to beat it. The DA had already “convicted” him of a serious wrongdoing by the severity of the charge, and since juries are biased against cyclists, his lawyer may have been unable to mount a defense.
As if this wasn’t enough, the Santa Monica police have made it known that they intend to crack down on cyclists who don’t obey the rules of the road. So this probably won’t be the last cyclist we’ll see charged with a serious crime.
This situation represents prejudice at its worst. No one disagrees with the idea of enforcing the traffic laws. But, they should be enforced equally.
If injuring a pedestrian with a bike is assault with a deadly weapon, then so is injuring or killing a cyclist with your car. There can be no two ways about it.
I expect to see the police charge the next California driver who kills a cyclist with vehicular homicide. To do otherwise would be tantamount to preferential application of the law, which would make a mockery of the U.S. legal system.
[The limitations of this blog (which I have no control over) will not allow me to embed the accompanying video. It can be viewed here.]