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Biking While Black Still a Crime in Fort Lauderdale, According to New Data

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Yet today, blacks are still shouldering the majority of the citations. According to data provided by the Public Defender's Office, between December 2013 and September 2014, the Fort Lauderdale PD issued only 45 tickets for unregistered bikes. Yet 42 of the violators were black -- 93 percent of the total. Only one ticket was issued east of Federal Highway.

When contacted for comment, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department would not confirm the number of citations, nor would the department's public information officer provide the numbers on current bike ordinances. "We are not required by the Sunshine Law to answer questions or do your research for you," Detective DeAnna Greenlaw wrote in an email. She did not comment on the statistics.

In an email, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler asked to see the information before commenting. "Obviously, we dispute any allegation of racial bias or unfair application of the law," he wrote. New Times emailed the mayor copies of the 45 tickets and a spreadsheet compiled by the Public Defender's Office showing the racial breakdown, but Seiler added no further comment.

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Says Finkelstein: "Sounds to me like it's politics. By reducing the numbers [of total citations issued], they think they can go under the radar and nobody will notice or care. Well, if you're one of those 43 people, you don't care that 250 people didn't get cited. You were tagged 'cause you're black."

Markinson Joseph, 16, was one of the unlucky ones. Between June 2013 and December 2014, he was handed four citations for failing to register his bicycle. The stops, clustered around his Middle River Terrace neighborhood, were all excuses to be messed with by police, he claims. On two occasions, he was taken into custody due to home custody violations, according to records. (If Joseph has any criminal record, it would not be public due to his age.)

"I feel like the Police Department are abusing their authority against us minors," the teenager says. "They're just using that as an excuse to stop us. One time they said I ran a stop sign on a bike. Then they told me I got slick with them, so they ended up giving me a ticket."

The teen pauses when asked how it makes him feel. "I don't have no feelings no more," he says. "I already know about society and how it doesn't benefit me."

The experience couldn't be more different only a few miles east on Fort Lauderdale Beach. On a gray Tuesday afternoon, only a few tourists are lying out on the wind-whipped beach. Garret Winter, a sun-cured, middle-aged guy in a dark polo shirt and visor, sits along the wall near the sand reading a folded newspaper. A burning cigar in his hand unspools smoke like an overworked factory chimney.

"I've read stories about that," he says when asked about the bike ordinance. "It made me think about getting this registered," he adds, pointing to the battered yellow Schwinn nearby. But he didn't. Why?

" 'Cause I'm not black," he shrugs. "I'm just out here smoking a cigar."

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson

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