On August 2, Najari Smith, a Black bicyclist and the leader of the Richmond community cycling organization Rich City Rides, was arrested during a peaceful group bike ride in Oakland. While the ride was passing through the First Friday street festival, police officers stopped Najari for playing music too loudly. Despite turning down the music and complying with all requests, Najari was handcuffed, arrested, and spent two nights in jail. This is a clear case of excessive police escalation against a Black man.
Bike East Bay and the local biking community are outraged that police traumatically disrupted a peaceful community ride and sent Najari to jail for a petty violation. The ride was organized by Rich City Rides; Red, Bike and Green; and Oakland’s Scraper Bike Team—all local Black-led community cycling organizations— in memory of Nia Wilson, the Black woman fatally stabbed at MacArthur BART station last month.
In past weeks, hundreds of people have rallied to support Najari, who is the founder of Rich City Rides, a youth organization that promotes bicycling in Richmond by providing low-cost bikes to kids and leading family-friendly bike rides. Hundreds signed Rich City Ride’s petition asking that all charges be dropped and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt wrote a letter to Alameda County in support of Najari. While the Alameda County District Attorney’s office subsequently dropped all charges, Najari’s arrest highlights the ongoing bias in police enforcement against Black bicyclists.
How much more likely are you to be stopped while biking if you’re Black? About 6 times according to a study from Stanford University that analyzed 2014 traffic stop data from the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Of the 1,081 bicyclists stopped by police in 2014, 73% were Black. This number is disproportionately high compared to both the biking population and the general population of Oakland, which is 28% Black. Police were also much more likely to handcuff Black people during a traffic stop. According to the study, Black bicyclists stopped in West Oakland were three times more likely to be handcuffed than white bicyclists in that neighborhood.
As bicycle advocates, we are outraged at the continued racial bias in police enforcement faced by Black bicyclists. Bike East Bay is now working alongside Rich City Rides and our fiscally sponsored projects Red, Bike & Green and the Scraper Bike Team to formulate a clear ask to Oakland’s police department and city leadership to end police harassment of Black people and people of color who are biking, walking and just plain existing.
We must act urgently to change the culture of policing. Traffic stops are too often the first, tragic step before the death of a Black person at the hands of police. Remembering the tragic deaths of Oscar Grant III, Demouria Hogg, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and too many others, all too frequently are Black folks harmed and killed after a police encounter in the name of “traffic safety.”
On August 24, there will be a People’s Justice Rally against police bias. Join civil right’s attorney Walter Riley, Najari Smith, Red Bike & Green Oakland, Rich City RIDES, and The Original Scraper Bike Team at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland at 11am to show your support. Get the latest updates on the Biking While Black: Justice for Naj Facebook event.