After my last article when I expressed my faith in human decency, that faith was put to the test when I read of the aftermath of the Bay Area tragedy when two cyclists were killed by a sheriff’s deputy’s car.
The media reflecting public opinion take on a “Blame the Victim” attitude. Although not in this specific case, but in talking about cycling related accidents in general. Public opinion after a cyclist is killed or injured is often, “He or she asked for it by being on the road.”
This same attitude existed back in the 1940s and 1950s if a woman was sexually assaulted. Public attitude often was, “She asked for it by dressing provocatively.” Police would do little to pursue such a case; in other words blame the victim.
The press and public opinion go hand in hand. The media can influence public opinion, but at the same time, they pander to popular opinion. Newspaper columnists know if they write an anti-cyclist piece it will get the support of the anti-cyclist public, and sell newspapers.
When Matthew Parris wrote in the London Times, advocating decapitation of cyclists with piano wire, there was an outcry from the cycling community, but little support from the general public.
Mr. Parris is not the only one to have written such inflammatory anti-cyclist articles. If these journalists used the words, Black, Jew, or Moslem in the place of “Cyclist” they would have been hauled off to jail.
In the same way that the media panders to public opinion, so too does it influence police attitude. Sheriffs are elected and police chiefs are beholding to elected officials. If police took the same “Blame the victim” attitude towards rape victims as they did 50 or 60 years ago, there would be an outcry from the media and the public.
There would also be public outcry if there was a racially motivated attack on a black man and the police failed to pursue the matter. Yet in Tucson, Arizona police refuse to pursue a case after a cyclist was struck with a baseball bat. Even though the victim provided a license plate number, and the cyclist’s lawyer knows who the assailant is, and where he lives.
In America a person can no longer attack a black or Jewish person, or a gay guy without serious consequences, these are hate crimes. Why is it then a driver consumed with road rage can take a baseball bat to a cyclist and the police look the other way?
Just read any online rant by someone on a blog or forum concerning cyclists, and they inevitably start talking about the skin tight shorts, those ridiculous shoes, and of Lance Armstrong wanna-bes. Totally irrelevant to the original complaint, but showing that all too human trait, to hate those perceived a little different.
Viewed in this light, isn’t the whole issue of people riding bikes on public roads a human rights issue? Cyclists are human, and they have a definite right to be on the road. Yet I have never heard of a cycling advocate pursuing it in this light, or a lawyer arguing that a cyclist’s civil rights were violated.
In the US, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, etc. etc. Maybe mode of transport should be added to that list. Discriminating against, or hating someone because they are riding a bicycle, is just as ludicrous as any other form of discrimination, and has no basis.
I still stand by the sentiments of my last post. Cyclists behaving badly serves no useful purpose, and only provides fuel for the hate mongers. It can increase the danger; if not to you then to other cyclists. People on the roads are already insane; you would hardly give the finger to someone coming at you with a baseball bat, so don’t do to the guy in a three ton SUV.
That doesn’t mean we keep taking this crap and do nothing. We keep making our presence known, and people will realize we are not going away; in fact our ranks will swell.
To draw a parallel with the human or civil rights movement of the 1960s, people achieved what they did by protesting in a peaceful manner, even though violence was used against them.
I will keep writing about the issue whenever it arises, and I am hoping others will pick it up and run with it. As I have said before, in time the message will reach the mainstream media.
Now, if I could only make the case that cycling is my religion……hmm.