Tuesday, July 30, 2019

This was a hate crime

Former Bicycling Magazine editor Andrew Bernstein was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Saturday, July 27, as he rode home from a velodrome near Boulder, Colorado. The ER doctor described it as "a high-energy impact," based on Bernstein's injuries.

The only evidence from the crash is a piece of turn signal lens. Investigators have said that they think it might be from a 2000 Dodge Ram van -- a touch of dark irony -- but it's not certain, and anyone could pick up a front end ding. These cases go unsolved more often than not. A teenage girl jogging along a road in Washington, Maine, was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver last week. Remorse is in short supply out there.

I say that Andrew Bernstein's injuries were the result of a hate crime because cyclists are all too familiar with the kinds of things that motorists post in comment threads after a crash involving a motor vehicle and a cyclist. We're all too familiar with the intimidating behavior that some drivers exhibit in the presence of witnesses, let alone when a hostile driver encounters a rider on a lonely road.

Drivers who mow down cyclists are cowards. Drivers who mow down cyclists from behind are the same kind of cowards who would shoot someone in the back and then brag about beating them to the draw. Violence against cyclists stems from the same assumption of superiority that inspires racist, religious, and sexist violence. Violent people are the minority, but you only have to meet one psychopath at the wrong time to wind up dead.

In the 1960s, civil rights activists went down to the part of the country where racist murders were not only not prosecuted, they were encouraged. I draw the parallel not to put cyclists on an equal footing with the people who risked lynching in order to advance racial equality, but to point out that the white supremacists act from the same sense of entitlement and cowardly overkill that motorists exhibit when passing inches away from your handlebar, or blatantly hitting someone just for riding a bike. And road cyclists need to find the same courage and resolve to keep going out there without knowing when or if an attack will come. Most of the time, it doesn't. That does not mean that it won't.

On Wednesday, some worthless piece of human refuse thought it would be funny to squeeze me against the guardrail on Route 28. He was in a string of traffic, so he could't take time to nail me right into it, but his intention was obvious. He suddenly appeared, nearly touching my elbow, and then pulled slowly and deliberately back into the lane after he had passed. It looked like a white Chevy Blazer with a Fox Racing sticker in the upper right corner of the back window. It was just the fox head outline, no words. On another day, a tractor trailer slid his big tires right past me on Center Street. That seemed more indifferent than aggressive. If I died, I died. He would not face charges, or even much disapproval. It was a safe bet for him.

Nothing good is freely given. No one in their right mind would have climbed out of a landing craft onto the beaches of Normandy, or any of the Pacific islands wrested back from the Japanese. The battlefields of the American Revolution were great places to get hurt. It completely sucks that merely riding a bike turns into an act of defiance and an invitation to assault and murder, but that's the kind of species we are.

The thing about homicidal cowards is that they don't care how contemptible they are. They derive their self worth from their machinery, whether it's a car, a truck, or an assault rifle. They feel pride in their willingness to hurt people that they deem inferior. The fact that their targets can't retaliate only provides further proof to them of their superiority. And yet most of them would be rather unhappy if every trip on the roads and streets turned into a tank battle between them and their armored adversaries. Think of it: "Honey, I'm going out for milk, eggs, and toilet paper! My will is in the top dresser drawer! Kids? Who wants to be my turret gunner today? Remember, only the strong survive!"
They're not looking for a good fight. They're just bullies. It's easy to act tough when you expect your adversary to back down.

Most riders prefer quiet roads. Light traffic or almost no traffic seems less threatening. It's easier to relax a little. But long gaps with no other witnesses present drivers with the best opportunity for a quick act of malice or an easy escape from a moment of carelessness. "Oops! I think I hit that biker! Oh well. I promise to feel sorry about it and try not to do it again. They knew the risks."

Cycling has become a form of passive resistance. It can't be active resistance, because the context is not a declared war. Motorists are armed with deadly battering rams and can kill or maim us with a twitch of the steering wheel. We have nothing.

Many riders have abandoned the field. They're like people who might support the troops but would never enlist. They're the ones who call it wisdom when they chuckle patronizingly and say that they have the sense to take up mountain biking or ride only on separated paths. They are motorists with a cycling hobby.

White supremacists argue that white people ended up on top because they won evolution. In the kill or be killed worldview, the people with the best weapons and the willingness to use them conquered the planet, except for the extensive parts that they didn't. Motor supremacists argue that motor vehicles won the right to dominate the road by technological superiority. Might makes right. In both cases, the technology and philosophy provide temporary dominance at the cost of ultimate destruction.

Is it worth fighting a losing battle? More people reach driving age every day. If the economy doesn't completely collapse, these people will get some form of motor vehicle to carry them between the multiple jobs they will need to earn enough money to pay for necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and that crap-box car. They'll call it normal, and resent anyone they see on a bike, who is obviously a less useful citizen. If you have time to waste on a bike, you have time to work more. Put some normal clothes on and get a car like a normal person. Abnormal is inferior. Inferior is weak. Weakness should be destroyed. See the logic?

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