Biking While Black Is a Crime

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Just then, a three-wheeled bike, slung low like a go-cart, rolls up to the table where Harris is seated while talking. Kenny Smith, the wiry driver, jury-rigged the ride himself. He says cops don't harass him for his bike because homemade bikes lack serial numbers and are therefore exempt from registration. "They pull up beside me and go," Smith says, showing a thumbs-up before cracking up with laughter.

"Fort Lauderdale is the only city that requires you to have a sticker," he says, grin tightening to a grimace. "But the main thing, it gives them probable cause, so they're going to run your name."

The statute simply requires "any person residing within the city who owns any bicycle to register such bicycle with the police department." The registration fee is $1, and each bike is given a small decal to indicate compliance. "A police officer may take into possession and impound any bicycle being operated or possessed on all streets," the law reads, "when the bicycle does not have attached thereto a bicycle registration decal."

Although Hollywood and North Lauderdale have similar provisions, their laws are rarely enforced. Miami-Dade also has a bike registration program, but it's voluntary.

New Times reviewed nearly 460 citations handed out by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department between July 2010 and June 2013. Many of the numbers and addresses are no longer valid. Many of those cited have criminal records. A count by Finkelstein's office revealed that fewer than one in three of the citations contained comments from police about why the stops were initiated.

Clutching a bag from Burger King, Telly Lockhart says he was riding his bike down NW 11th Place near Sunrise around 9:30 on a weeknight in 2011 when a patrol car rolled up.

In 1992, he'd been charged with delivery of cocaine, aggravated assault, and battery; in 2002, he was again in cuffs on a cocaine possession charge. But the then-36-year-old had been clean since, and he said as much as a Fort Lauderdale Police officer approached.

The officer said Lockhart's bike didn't have a light and asked if it was registered, Lockhart remembers. He answered that he'd just bought the beach cruiser from Walmart. The officer explained that the bike would have to go. After searching his pockets and finding no contraband, the cop said Lockhart could come down to the police station, pay the fine, and get back the bike.

"Man, I don't have transportation to get the bike. That's why I'm on a bike," Lockhart protested. Bikeless, he was never able to retrieve his cruiser. Instead, he soon got a valet job at a Nissan dealership and later bought a car, he says. "No doubt, they don't go into the upscale neighborhoods and do that."

In August of 2011, Ellsworth Knowles was steering his black bicycle to the Midway Food Market just off Broward Boulevard. About the only thing on the then-43-year-old's mind was whether he'd be picking a Dr. Pepper or a Pepsi out of the cooler.

Suddenly, plainclothes police officers were marching out of an unmarked car, asking Knowles if his bike was registered. The dreadlocked commercial painter whistled some expletive at the cops, then explained the registration didn't apply because he didn't live in Fort Lauderdale but in Pembroke Pines.

According to Knowles, who'd been charged with battery in 1989 and grand theft in 1995, the cops smashed his black beach cruiser against the ground, bending the chrome-trimmed wheels.

"It's essentially fishing for crime, as opposed to having legitimate reasons to see if a crime is committed," he says today. "If they're stopping and spending time harassing me on my bike, you might have a burglar on the next street breaking into someone's home."

The Fort Lauderdale Police chief stands at ease in the middle of the street, hands in his uniform pockets, lobbing the occasional hock of spit onto the pavement. Frank Adderley is average in size and build, his face a clean-shaven, all-business screen that rarely jumps with emotion. Right now, he's listening to the same story he hears all the time, today pouring from Torren Poole.

From his front lawn on a side street off Sistrunk, the 30-something homeowner ticks off his complaints: Prostitutes have sex on the roof of the building behind the house where he lives with his wife and two kids. Tween drug pushers are pedaling the streets till 4 or 5 in the morning. If something isn't nailed down here, it's as good as stolen. He's had to call police twice this week about disturbances. His own bike was just swiped off his lawn.

"Have you ever seen The Walking Dead, bro? Walkers, that's what we've got," Poole says. "It's a war."

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson