Longform

Biking While Black Is a Crime

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The American Civil Liberties Union would be onboard with such a fight. Fort Lauderdale attorney Barry Butin, head of the ACLU's Broward branch, says the statistics about the number of citations handed out to African-Americans spell out a constitutional violation. "Police officers are supposed to base stops on reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, not based on the color of someone's skin."

Butin, like Muhammad, says the next step is rounding up enough plaintiffs. "It's a factual situation where you have to prove in court constitutional violations, and you need plaintiffs for that," Butin says. "Some people that are subject to this might just leave it for another day or not want to sign their name on a lawsuit against police. What we would be looking for now are people willing to go all the way with this."

Finkelstein's office is taking a small-scale approach: going case by case, bringing up the uneven enforcement statistics as a defense for any of his clients whose arrest began with a bike stop. The police, he bellows, are using the bike ordinance "as a ruse, a subterfuge, a pretext in order to question them and search them," he says. "This biking law was created for no other reason than to stop people."

For his part, Adderley seems to already be anticipating a courtroom tussle. "Our job is to enforce the law," he says. "We don't determine who is the person who's in violation."

But he concedes that he would stop using it if ordered by the courts. "If a judge says we can't use the ordinance, we won't."

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson