A Ticket for What?

SFPD cracks down on messengers


newsletter of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

April 1993, number 13

by Stuart Coulthard

On Thursday, March 18, the police cracked down on bike messengers. Intwo hours, 51 messengers were cited for not having a license, and six werecharged with riding bikes on the sidewalk. Two explanations were givenas to why the crackdown occurred -- one by messengers, another by the SFPD.

At a same-day protest, messengers told the tubular times that a copon a bicycle -- officer Tom -- had tried in vain to pull over a messengerfor a traffic violation the day before, but that the messenger got away.After giving up the chase, Tom went to two popular messenger hangouts toannounce "that something big was going to come down" and thatthere would "be hell to pay" the following day. When the crackdownoccurred on Thursday, it seemed obvious to many observers that officerTom was behind it.

Sergeant Bill White, the officer in charge of the crackdown, calledThursday's actions "selective enforcement" of section 98.1 ofthe San Francisco Traffic Code. Section 98 -- titled "Responsibilityof business making deliveries by bicycle" -- says that a businessmust require its employees to carry proper identification (such as a stateissued ID), and a numbered license plate hung from the saddle of the bike,with the name of the company clearly visible. Section 98.1 requires individualmessengers to comply. Both laws were instituted during the Feinstein administration.

Sergeant White declared the operation a huge success. He claimed thatthe SFPD didn't single out bike messengers for "selective enforcement,"saying that the week before they had used the same tactic to target unregisteredmotor vehicles in the Potrero district. He pointed out that the citationsgiven to the bicycle messengers were only infractions (a violation noton one's permanent record) while the motor vehicles cited were given misdemeanorviolations.

[In other words, the cops lash out at ALL disenfranchised groups insome perverse rotation -- equal opportunity oppression. Is that supposedto be comforting? - ed.]

On March 19, tubular times reporter Dan Davidson asked Deputy Chiefof Police Petrini about the motives behind the crackdown. Petrini saidthat a pedestrian had recently been hit by a messenger and there were otherproblems like weaving in and out of traffic and catching rides on carsby hanging on side-view mirrors (!). When asked about the incident withofficer Tom, Petrini said that he would be quite displeased with any officerwho acted in that way, and that he encourages messengers threatened byTom to bring it before the Police Review Board. Petrini also claimed thatthe SFPD had been planning the crackdown for weeks, and that officer Tomhad no connection with the decision that led to Thursday's crackdown.

The whole crackdown raises serious questions about the intent of Ordinance98 and the SFPD's method of enforcement. Clearly, the dangers to bicyclistsand pedestrians in the downtown area are caused mainly by the huge amountof automobile traffic there. A more basic solution would be to eliminateautomobiles from the area. If the object of the crackdown was to enforceordinance 98, the companies would have been warned and then cited. Twohours of police time (plus administration and planning) were put into anexpensive and time consuming campaign. Is all this hullabaloo really aboutbike licenses? Or is it to punish messengers as a group? The real goalsseem to be the resurrection of Tom's pride and the revival of a widespreadfear of police. The SFPD's time would be better spent recovering stolenbicycles.

Messenger Andrew is organizing a "Committee To Deep Six 98"to challenge the legality of the ordinance. He has contacted a lawyer andwants everyone cited to unite for a group court date. For more informationon this contact Andrew at King Courier (431-2565), or drop by 150 8th Streetin San Francisco.

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