Bicycle Harassment In NJ

Police car, photo by Matti Blume

The latest outrage on the internet is the seizure of bicycles from black riders in Perth Amboy, NJ. It’s being used by celebrities to demonstrate the harassment of blacks and other minorities and condemned by the ACLU. The problem with that take is that blacks and other minorities are the ones who have promoted the laws.

First, the offending video, which I first noticed in the comment section of the Owl.

Saeed Jones is a Kirkus award winner for nonfiction and a former member of Buzzfeed News (from before financial issues streamlined the organization.) He’s far from unique in complaining about the incident, and his interpretation of it is commonly accepted.

The New Jersey branch of the ACLU stepped in, posting about the arrest on Twitter. This has, in turn, caused the Middlesex County prosecutor to announce an investigation into the arrest.

There are two aspects of the arrest in question. The first is whether the riders were targeted or mistreated because they were minorities. The kids were treated respectfully, they were not assaulted in any way, and the reason they were confronted was that they were riding in the street against the flow of traffic – something illegal in most areas of the country because of the danger it creates for bicycle riders. The answer to that question thus seems probable to be “no”, they weren’t singled out or mistreated because of their skin color.

The second is whether the laws were put into place to harass minorities. To that end, let’s take a look at the NJ government officials who have pressed for the laws.

Perth Amboy bicycle registration laws were first enacted in 1939, but they have been amended repeatedly since then. Tricycles, for example, were banned from operating in certain areas of the city in 1991. The licensing fee was updated to 50 cents per year in 2011. All bicycles must be kept to code or be confiscated, with the riders subjected to $50 fines and imprisonment of no more than 10 days.

From the mid-1970s through today, Perth Amboy has been run by Democratic Mayors with a predominantly Democratic city council; during that time, the ethnicity of those public officers has been mostly Hispanic with a strong tendency toward people of Puerto Rican descent.

Perth Amboy is far from alone in passing bicycle registration laws. They are common in cities in the northern part of the state. The support has been such that Cleopatra Tucker introduced legislation in 2010 to take the laws statewide – to make all bicycles on public roadways in New Jersey subject to mandatory registration with a $10 yearly fee and a $100 penalty for failing to register and a requirement for all bicycles to have individually tracked license plates. Cleopatra Tucker is black, from a predominantly minority district.

I had to have my bicycle registered or face a fine when I was an adolescent in a town across the river from Perth Amboy and when I was a teen in Belmar, Neptune City and Neptune, more than thirty-five years ago. For most of that time, I also had to pay an annual processing fee and keep a license sticker on the bicycle. The regulations are typically presented as ways to enforce general safety, but their casual enforcement suggests their real use is revenue generation for local governments. If they were designed to oppress blacks and other minorities, it seems doubtful that their designated representatives would be the ones initiating them. Instead, they are just another example of governmental overreach.

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.