Thanks to social media and the wide availability of smartphones, America is being forced to come to terms with not just the most egregiously brutal excesses of American policing but also the pettiest indignities and outrages that law enforcement imposes on Black and Latino Americans.
While the nation awaits a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, police in Perth Amboy, New Jersey demonstrated once again that simply being in public, enjoying themselves, or behaving in any way other than quiet obedience is enough to trigger police harassment. A viral video shows Perth Amboy police arresting Black teenagers for the heinous crime of…riding a bike without a license.
Yes, you read that right.
We can’t even ride bikes now… I’m not surprised. I’m just angry. pic.twitter.com/xcAR8zmnuP
— ⁶Kid (@deep_dab) April 19, 2021
As if their hostility towards young Black men wasn’t evident enough already, it somehow required six police cars to arrest one Black person for not having a license for his bike. It turns out that the town of Perth Amboy has an archaic 1939 law requiring that a fee of $.50 be paid to the city, which is supposed to issue a license for the bike and renewed annually. Obviously, this would be a preposterous amount of paperwork for any town to have to deal with and the law has faded away into obscurity — until it gets revived to justify harassing a Black biker.
Footage from the police station later showed the police pretending that this arrest was for “his own safety” and then threatening to steal the bike entirely: “You know that we told you guys to stay on the sidewalk. You guys know that you’re going against traffic. This is for your own safety. You think I want to be here, taking bikes away? This is so asinine. Like we have so much better stuff to do with our time. But we just stopped another group doing the same thing, we can’t do this all summer. And technically, if I wanted to be an asshole, is your bike registered with us? I don’t have to give it back to you. You have the receipt to prove the bike is yours? I don’t have to give it back to you. But I’m not gonna do that because that’s not the point of this.”
That cop asking if he had any proof it was his like wtf? She literally took it from him
— Antonio Alfaro-Cruz (@Cruz10A) April 20, 2021
This video illustrates some harsh truths about American policing: that the primary function of cops is to harass Black Americans using any pretense and that cops regularly steal from those they arrest. There was absolutely no reason that they needed to arrest anyone, much less call in six police cars to do so.
But they did anyway, reminding these folks just having fun on their bikes that there is nothing that Black Americans can do in public that will spare them the indignity of having to answer questions, being thrown in the back of a cop car, and then to be condescended to by cops deluding themselves that they’re just trying to help them.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.