” A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that Tampa police are targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars.
Officers use these minor violations as an excuse to stop, question and search almost anyone on wheels. The department doesn’t just condone these stops, it encourages them, pushing officers who patrol high-crime neighborhoods to do as many as possible.
There was the 56-year-old man who rode his bike through a stop sign while pulling a lawnmower. Police handcuffed him while verifying he had, indeed, borrowed the mower from a friend.
There was the 54-year-old man whose bike was confiscated because he couldn’t produce a receipt to prove it was his.
One woman was walking her bike home after cooking for an elderly neighbor. She said she was balancing a plate of fish and grits in one hand when an officer flagged her down and issued her a $51 ticket for not having a light. With late fees, it has since ballooned to $90. She doesn’t have the money to pay.
The Times analyzed more than 10,000 bicycle tickets Tampa police issued in the past dozen years. The newspaper found that even though blacks make up about a quarter of the city’s population, they received 79 percent of the bike tickets.
Some riders have been stopped more than a dozen times through the years, and issued as many as 17 tickets. Some have been ticketed three times in one day.
It’s possible blacks in some areas use bicycles more than whites. But that’s not what’s driving the disparity.
Police are targeting certain high-crime neighborhoods and nitpicking cyclists as a way to curb crime. They hope they will catch someone with a stolen bike or with drugs or that they will scare thieves away.”