Birding, jogging, and biking all sound like innocuous ways to spend a little time outdoors, unless you happen to be Black.
On Sunday night, two LA County Sheriff deputies attempted to stop 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee as he was riding his bike, which he was apparently doing in “an unlawful manner.” Kizzee, rightfully fearing for his life, abandoned the bike and attempted to flee. A physical altercation ensued, which ended in the officers opening fire — and yet another Black life cut short by police violence. (The officers are fine, if you really had to ask.)
What code did Kizzee violate? Is it the one where you’re Black and existing within eyeshot of a police officer (or even just a cranky White person)? No one knows, apparently — including Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Dean, who could not name an actual offense when addressing the shooting Monday morning. (If you’re here to talk about the gun that does not explain why the police targeted Kizzee in the first place, please go read about all the still-alive White people brandishing AR-15s at officers instead. I’ll even help you get started.)
What You Mean When You Say “He Should Have Obeyed the Police”
What happened last Sunday when a suspect refused to comply with police? (Hint: You’ve got it all wrong.)
While the story’s still developing, Biking While Black (or Driving While Black or Sleeping While Black or Shopping While Black, etc. forever) isn’t a new problem. In 2015, journalist Heather Smith explained how bike registration laws in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — initially passed to curb bike theft — instead gave officers carte blanche to “pull over” Black cyclists: fining them, impounding unregistered bikes, and stranding them with no regard for their ability to get home safely.
A three-year study showed that the vast majority of cyclists ticketed under this law were Black, as were the neighborhoods in which these tickets were issued. The majority of people who registered their bikes under this law were also Black (67%), a much higher rate than White people who registered (37%). Consider, too, that Black people made up just 31% of the Fort Lauderdale population at the time, compared to 62.2% White.
Black and Brown communities have long been disproportionately targeted under similar policies: from bike codes to broken windows policing. But we’re not just talking about how inhumane it is to over-police communities in which excessive fines can make the difference between rent and eviction nor how exploitative it is to criminalize bicycles as though they aren’t a primary mode of transportation for those who can’t afford cars or public transportation. Across the United States, Biking While Black has led to jail time and lifelong criminal records, assault, and death. Dijon Kizzee is just the latest casualty of this disgusting trend. And after a summer of watching Black men and women die and continued failure of our criminal justice system to, um, provide justice, I really have to ask: What needs to happen to make him the last?