Harassment: First Time In Eight Years

There’s been a lot of chatter recently on the Bicycle Friendly Springfield Facebook group about proposing an anti-harassment law similar to those in Columbia and St. Louis. Basically, such a law would make it illegal to purposely harass a bicyclist. I’ve been ambivalent about it for two reasons: 1) Isn’t it already illegal to harass people using the streets? and 2) I’ve been using a bicycle for basic transportation in Springfield daily (except snow) for 8 years, and I have never been harassed.

Until this morning…

I remain ambivalent about a specific law, but I think I could be persuaded to be an ardent supporter depending upon what happens regarding what I experienced this morning.

(UPDATE: Count me persuaded. I heard from Chief of Police Paul Williams a few minutes ago. The most that can happen is issue tickets for inappropriate use of horn and following too close. Anything more is up to the prosecutor. We need to give the police the necessary tools.)

I had a guy tailgate me for a mile this morning through downtown honking and yelling despite traffic so light he could have easily passed at any given point along the route. (Note: On Facebook this morning I claimed 2 miles. That was the adrenaline typing. I just checked the route on Google Maps.)

I am happy to report that I did not confront this person except to tell him that I have a legal right to the road. I did not flip him off. I did not call him names. And I did not back down. I remained in the street riding lawfully until he finally passed me (on Boonville when I pulled into the the bicycle lane — then he close-passed me!).

When I stopped at the light at Walnut and Kimbrough — with the guy 3 feet from my back tire — I called the police. The dispatcher could easily hear the honking and yelling. I gave this description: Older, beat-up, white Chevrolet Lumina with Missouri tags HH1-T6C. The driver was a white male in his mid 20s, at least 6-feet tall between 175 and 195 pounds wearing a black tank-top.

The dispatcher sent a police officer to meet me at my destination — The Hub — to take my report. As I would expect, the officer was very helpful. But when I asked what could actually be done about this situation, the officer was not sure. He said they might be able to ticket the guy for inappropriate use of a horn if I’m willing to testify.

Huh? Seriously?

If that is indeed the case, that someone can use their vehicle to intimidate me on the streets and get away with nothing but a ticket for horn honking, then, yes, I think it is time to talk about a harassment law.

I’ve been honked at and yelled at before. As Carbon Trace readers know, these encounters are very rare for me. I attribute that to two things: 1) The general politiness of people in Springfield, and 2) My following traffic laws to the letter. I do not consider these types of incidents harassment.

I’ve heard stories of people being pelted with objects thrown by motorists and passengers. This has never happened to me. I also do not consider this behavior harassment. I call it criminal assault for which we already have adaquate laws.

Today I was harassed — threatened with a motor vehicle. And I am going to be watching closely what happens in regard to my police report.

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Comments 43

  1. Keri wrote:

    Intimidation with a weapon (car) is assault. If they actually hit you with an object it is battery. If you were both on foot and he brandished a baseball bat at you, it would be assault. If he hit you with the bat, assault and battery.

    He brandished a car at you.

    The problem is those laws are never enforced to protect other street users from militant motorists.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 9:55 am
  2. Jason wrote:

    I agree with Keri. There should be some kind of more serious charge filed.

    Glad you’re ok.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 9:59 am
  3. Jim Phillips wrote:

    In my opinion, he should be charged with assault. Springfield Code regarding assault is:

    Sec. 78-64. – Common assault. A person commits the crime of common assault if: … (3)The person purposely places another person in apprehension of immediate physical injury;(4)The person recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death or serious physical injury to another person;…

    I don’t know if the police would agree but I think his behavior meets both of those criteria.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:07 am
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    I hope there’s something more serious to bring against him. But that will mean the police have to take this seriously. I hope they do. I’m NOT questioning their intentions based on professionalism. Instead, they operate in a culture where bicycles are an after-thought. The joke in MO is: Want to murder someone? Take them hunting or hit them while they ride a bicycle.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:08 am
  5. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Take him to court and sue him. Someone with an “older, beat-up, white Chevrolet Lumina” likely has little money, but you can give him the option of doing something positive in the community to make up for his assault.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:34 am
  6. Ian Cooper wrote:

    I wish you could force the police to charge him with assault. If a neighbor acted (outside of a motor vehicle) in the way a motorist did towards me a couple of weeks ago, I could easily have persuaded the police to charge him/her with assault.

    Sadly, for some reason, when a car is involved, the standard guidelines for what is illegal activity seem to fly out the window. This is, I suppose, why people like Christy Littleford get to beat cyclists to death with a blunt object, then take it home and persuade police officers that they don’t belong in jail. If I took anything other than a car outside and killed someone with it, I’d expect to be in jail that very night – and I think that’s the way things should be – even clumsiness should come with severe and immediate consequences when it results in death. Extenuating circumstances can be argued when the first hearing comes up. In the meantime, you get ‘time out’ to think about what you’ve done for a few days or weeks.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:37 am
  7. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    Talk to a lawyer about a “terroristic threatening” charge. To me, at least, it seems a form of terrorism as it was defined in the pre-Bush era: threat of violence against your person intended to dissuade you from acting in a lawful manner.

    In short, though, talk to an attorney, asking about assault, terroristic threatening, and whatever else comes to mind in effort to find some way to get the guy into public service or some other form of anger management counseling. Don’t be afraid to make an example of him in effort to discourage others from similar behavior, if it comes to that.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:39 am
  8. Andy Cline wrote:

    Tom et. al. I’m going to give the system a chance to work here. And I’m attempting to prod it along by making this public here and on Facebook. I also sent e-mail to the Chief of Police, who recently worked with PedNet and the STAR Team to offer a bicycle training session for the spf pd. I have no idea who the guy is outside having his tag number.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:49 am
  9. kc wrote:

    That’s why I say, tase now, ask questions later.
    Your life was definitely threatened, conceal, carry, carry out.
    Ok…maybe that’s adrenaline on my part.
    I’ve had almost the identical same thing happen on a country road. I called the Highway Patrol, who is a cyclist. He went to the guys home, & went over the laws with him.
    I don’t think he’ll be a repeat offender.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:00 pm
  10. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Just having an officer give the jerk a good talking to has value of course.
    I had a driver try to pass me in a very dangerous manner, then tailgate me, scream at me, then throw coins at me as we both waited at a red signal. I didn’t get an accurate tag number, but Orlando Police waited at the same location. the next day (it happened during morning commute) and pulled him over. He was very apologetic.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:17 pm
  11. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Hawaii has a Terroristic Threatening law.

    Below is New York State law. Does MO have something like one of those two? If, so you probably don’t need a bicycle-specific law and if you got one, it might be a lower grade misdemenor at best. Go for the gusto.

    http://www.nycourts.gov/cji/2-penallaw/240/240-30%284%29.pdf

    AGGRAVATED HARASSMENT
    SECOND DEGREE
    (A Misdemeanor)
    (Harassment in the First Degree -
    Stalking; Course of Conduct;
    Repeated Acts; Previous Conviction)
    PENAL LAW 240.30(4)
    (Committed on or after May 24, 1994)

    Under our law, a person is guilty of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:22 pm
  12. Khal Spencer wrote:

    By the way, Andy, a couple years ago a truck driver got annoyed with two of our bicyclists. Words and gestures were exchanged. The truck driver slammed on the brakes and got out with a tire iron.

    Unfortunately for the truck driver and fortunately for society, our police chief just happened to be driving past in his personal vehicle when this occurred. The truck driver found himself in jail on felony assault charges.

    I think there is law out there. It just has to be used.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:26 pm
  13. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Andy–Here is Missouri law.

    http://www.ncvc.org/src/main.aspx?dbID=DB_Missouri252

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:30 pm
  14. Andy Cline wrote:

    Here’s the MO harassment law. #6 applies:

    Harassment.
    565.090. 1. A person commits the crime of harassment if he or she:

    (1) Knowingly communicates a threat to commit any felony to another person and in so doing frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to such other person; or

    (2) When communicating with another person, knowingly uses coarse language offensive to one of average sensibility and thereby puts such person in reasonable apprehension of offensive physical contact or harm; or

    (3) Knowingly frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to another person by anonymously making a telephone call or any electronic communication; or

    (4) Knowingly communicates with another person who is, or who purports to be, seventeen years of age or younger and in so doing and without good cause recklessly frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to such other person; or

    (5) Knowingly makes repeated unwanted communication to another person; or

    (6) Without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person’s response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person.

    2. Harassment is a class A misdemeanor unless:

    (1) Committed by a person twenty-one years of age or older against a person seventeen years of age or younger; or

    (2) The person has previously pleaded guilty to or been found guilty of a violation of this section, or of any offense committed in violation of any county or municipal ordinance in any state, any state law, any federal law, or any military law which, if committed in this state, would be chargeable or indictable as a violation of any offense listed in this subsection.

    In such cases, harassment shall be a class D felony.

    3. This section shall not apply to activities of federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement officers conducting investigations of violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:35 pm
  15. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Yep. That nails it. Why is it WE have to explain this to the P.D.????

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:38 pm
  16. Khal Spencer wrote:

    New Mexico statute below. This would cover the harassment of a reasonable bicyclist.

    N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-3A-2. Harassment; penalties. (1997)

    Harassment consists of knowingly pursuing a pattern of conduct that is intended to annoy, seriously alarm or terrorize another person and that serves no lawful purpose. The conduct must be such that it would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.
    Whoever commits harassment is guilty of a misdemeanor.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:41 pm
  17. Andy Cline wrote:

    I sent the link, and copied #6, to the chief asking why this would not apply.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 12:46 pm
  18. Steve A wrote:

    Andy, be cautious. I have been harassed by three motorists in four years, but two of them did it on more than one occasion. Get stuff in the official record in case this slime is a serial offender.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 4:13 pm
  19. Michael wrote:

    Dang. Glad to hear you’re OK.

    I stopped by to drop off a link. Looks like you weren’t the only one treated insanely for riding a bike, lately.

    WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) – As high school seniors get set to walk commencement, toilets are exploding, lockers are getting graffitied and doors are getting super-glued.

    The vandalism is part of the tradition known as senior pranks.

    But a decision by Kenowa Hills seniors to do something a lot less harmful has drawn the ire of their principal.

    The plan was to hold a bike parade as a nice, non-destructive, healthy senior prank.

    Seniors called police for an escort, and even called Walker’s mayor, who rode in the parade.

    “Police escort, with the mayor, who brought us donuts. …The mayor brought us donuts…” said a group of seniors following the ride.

    But school official weren’t told in advance, hence the word prank, and were not happy with the event.

    They kicked the seniors out of school for their last day and threatened to keep them from walking in graduation ceremonies set for May 30.
    http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/kent_county/Kenowa-Hills-bike-ride

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 5:38 pm
  20. robert wrote:

    Andy,

    Maybe the most you can hope for is that a knowledgable officer calls the motorist. The motorist will probably lie and say it didn’t happen but the call, and a lecture from the officer will probably make a world of difference in this situation.

    Just because the officer may not understand what to charge the person with is not excuse to not at least call the guy and have a conversation about road rights.

    Please, please, please make sure this guy is contacted by law enforcement.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 6:45 pm
  21. Steve A wrote:

    Robert and I agree rarely enough, but I endorse his sentiments entirely. I wish I had the presence of mind to get a license number in any incident where I have been harassed. I keep practicing taking license numbers, but actual active harassment is so rare that I have never gotten one. It is only the last two events from the latest predator that I even got the make and model of vehicle. So I salute you.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 6:55 pm
  22. Michael wrote:

    I’m wondering if the presence of cell phone cameras will make this sort of thing more and more rare. I keep my phone handy when I ride, but thankfully haven’t had the need to get a pic of a license plate.

    Posted 25 May 2012 at 7:57 pm
  23. Angelo wrote:

    If honking and yelling are very rare, this is definitely due to the people in Springfield – I find obeying the law does nothing to reduce honking, yelling. If Springfield police take this seriously, you are very luck they are not doing the harassing.

    Posted 26 May 2012 at 11:51 am
  24. DanC wrote:

    Taking down the vehicle license tag, description, notes of event and calling police to file a report are big, BIG steps. If it happens again, submit another report. Then the police will have more reason to call the knucklehead. Seriously!

    About 5 years ago I had close passes on rural road on two consecutive days. The Deputy Sheriff could do “anything” (write a ticket), he happened to be motorcyclist (identified with problem) and agreed to call the driver.

    In a follow up call the Deputy said the driver did not realize how close he passed and apologized. Afterwards I did not see his car for six months and ever since he’s passed carefully, very carefully.

    Posted 26 May 2012 at 2:07 pm
  25. Chandra wrote:

    Andy:
    I am sorry to hear about your harassment.

    I agree with Steve and Khal.

    I hope they have better laws in MO.

    I know Texas law apparently sucks. My good friend got hit by a car and has been in the ICU for over a week with a broken neck, broken hips, broken ribs, punctured spleen, etc. I don’t think they did darn thing to the driver.

    And, Andy – please be careful out there.

    Paz :)

    Posted 26 May 2012 at 5:16 pm
  26. Coy Hart wrote:

    Where was that high dollar ‘Go-Pro’ camera when you needed it?

    I ain’t no cop nor no lawyer, but this screams assault to me. We just have a police department that is unwilling to do it’s duty … Or even give this jerk a good face to face talking to.

    Posted 26 May 2012 at 5:41 pm
  27. Fred Ollinger wrote:

    The only real law that matters is what is enforced. Thus in this case, cycling harassment is nearly completely legal.

    In many places such as San Diego, and NYC, motorists can even kill cyclist provided they don’t break more than one traffic law–see everywhere on the internet.

    There are many impedements to solving this problem. One of them is VC cyclists who don’t wish to acknowledge, in the law, that cyclists are different than other motor vehicles (a child can tell you that they are).

    Personally, I don’t care how it’s done, we need more anti-harassment laws so go for it!

    For a similar example look at how drinking and driving and speeding are treated. Both are equally deadly. However, one is a HUGE offense and an embarassment (you could lose your license) while the other is a point of pride and even a joke.

    Posted 28 May 2012 at 8:46 pm
  28. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “..VC cyclists who don’t wish to acknowledge, in the law, that cyclists are different than other motor vehicles (a child can tell you that they are).”

    VC’s philosophy is that cyclists are safest when they are treated as equal users of the road. I think it’s a mistake to characterize VC as you do.

    As for children, they can tell you lots of things that aren’t factual. My daughter believes in dragons and fairies. That doesn’t mean they exist.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 5:56 am
  29. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Well, first off, bicycles are not motor vehicles, so there is a syntax problem. I think vehicular cyclists know that bicycles are human powered.

    The limitations of human power, i.e., about half a horsepower peak for most people, results in the main difference. A bicyclist often can’t keep up with traffic on a clear road (never mind congested roads for now). That power hierarchy, and the ego strokes and emotional hierarchy the public puts on vehicle power, is a major difference between the bicycle as vehicle and other vehicles. But we see that same power trip imposed on other people. A lot of people get their strokes by dumping on those perceived to have less power. Bullying.

    Getting away from the fuzzy topic of human behavior vs. perception of power and prestige, there are a myriad of laws that discriminate on the basis of vehicle types, i.e., between bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, buses, heavy trucks, and light duty vehicles (cars and trucks). But what all vehicles have in common, at least historically, was an obligation to follow common rules of the road and comply with MUTCD postings. My understanding is that when VC proponents suggest cyclists behave as vehicles, it is these common principles, such as keep right, turn from the proper lane, use lights at night, etc., that we are talking about.

    As Andy and I researched, there are laws that cover harassment. Getting police, DAs, and juries to apply these will take a lot of work. Adding non-enforced laws, such as three foot laws, just clutters the legal landscape.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 6:34 am
  30. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Khal & Ian: Fred knows what we think better than we do, so there’s no point in arguing with him.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 6:39 am
  31. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Speaking of sentence structure, what I should have said was “…suggest cyclists behave as the operators of vehicles…”

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 6:43 am
  32. Fred wrote:

    Actually, I don’t.

    There were many unanswered questions from last discussion.

    It seems that questions that make VCers uncomfortable, they ignore.

    For example, I still was given no explanation on what scientific basis _Effective Cycling_ (and Savvy Cycling) was based upon. With no data, we can conclude that it’s just a bunch of baseless opinions.

    No studies that weren’t available before 1978 are useful b/c they weren’t around when teh book was written.

    Victory #4 (or so), I lost count.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 1:16 pm
  33. robert wrote:

    I’m still trying to understand what Andy’s definition of harassment is. He has written in the past about being honked at, etc.

    I consider someone honking out of anger or shouting to be harassment and that happens to me nearly at least once per week. Sometimes it will happen several rides in a row.

    Something like what Andy describes above is an extreme case but certainly not the first time Andy has been harassed in eight years.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at 11:13 pm
  34. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I think one reason cops are loath to cite for harassment, a misdemeanor, is because it is tough to draw a line between being an asshole and actually meeting a definition of harassment that will convince a jury to vote to convict. What we probably need is a few real live, obvious cases that can go to trial successfully–either with a conviction or a plea bargain of guilty of a charge that carries consequences. That will help convince your run of the mill yahoo to not misbehave.

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 10:10 am
  35. Robert wrote:

    Having an ordinance against bicyclist harassment really helps as well. The one in Columbia became a huge story. It was even picked up by the AP and became a bit of a national story.

    Talk radio and letters to the editor were full of people telling stories of people wanting to honk amd yell at bicyclists but they couldnt because of the “stupid” law.

    Most bicyclists report a much more pleasant Experience bicycling in Columbia since the law was passed. It wouldnt have been as effective if the news story about it hadnt of blown up. Literally every person in Comumbia heard about the ordinance.

    This was also helped by a council member voting for it and then spending the next two months trying to get it removed from the books.

    Im always surprised when people discuss the issue of an ordinance but never ask the question, “has it worked?”

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 12:02 pm
  36. Khal Spencer wrote:

    We have code that specifically forbids harassing a bicyclist, below. I’ve not heard of anyone being cited. I have heard of people being arrested for assault when they went way over the line.

    Sec. 38-545. – Riding on streets and bicycle paths.
    section f states “No person shall operate a motor vehicle in such a manner as to harass or endanger the operator of a bicycle.”

    (Ord. No. 85-218, § 2, 1995; Ord. No. 85-233, § 1, 1996; Ord. No. 85-259, § 2, 1998; Code 1985, § 10.11.005)

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 12:17 pm
  37. Ian Cooper wrote:

    I wish I knew what the law in Maryland said about it, but the website that carried the traffic code has been down for some time – not sure what the problem is there.

    I think I read somewhere that motorists were not supposed to honk around cyclists – it might have been in the Driver’s Handbook, but last time I checked, I couldn’t find it.

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 12:39 pm
  38. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Answer for Fred:
    http://www.walkinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=4119

    http://www.walkinginfo.org/facts/pbcat/applications.cfm

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 12:56 pm
  39. Robert wrote:

    Khal,

    I was in New Mexico for the past few days.

    Anyway, Your law doesnt seem to address honking or shouting. Its not implied bc it says “drive a motor vehicle….” To me, that really means passing closely, etc.

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 5:39 pm
  40. Khal Spencer wrote:

    It means what a judge, DA, and jury decides it means. Like I said, I have yet to hear that a case went to court, so its hard to know exactly what the bounds would be of its interpretation.

    Posted 30 May 2012 at 8:29 pm
  41. Robert wrote:

    To me, the value of these laws is to discourage the behavior. For that reason, I prefer laws that specifically list honking, shouting, etc.

    It will be interesting to see what Springfield’s law looks like when it’s introduced.

    Posted 31 May 2012 at 9:25 am
  42. Khal Spencer wrote:

    That kind of specificity can work both ways. I had a discussion about it with our police chief in the context of a cell phone ban. His point was the distracted driving can be attacked through the Careless Driving statute, which bans any activity that takes one’s mind off the road, and which is not specific to a device. While one can, of course, stop someone on the phone with Careless Driving while asserting that cell phone use is by its very nature distracting, I suspect that would go to an appeals court made up of judges who text while driving. Sigh…

    Posted 31 May 2012 at 12:30 pm
  43. Mean Drivers wrote:

    Cannot tell you in the past 1,000 mi how incidents of angry trolls in past happy hour, jacked up 4 wheel drive, black window tough guys or ghetto gang bang trash honda mobiles want to start something up with a group of bikers. If this stuff doesn’t start getting enforced and taken seriously by law enforcement some very bad things are going to happen on both sides. EDUCATE THE PUBLIC NOW, SHOW THEM IT’S WRONG. BULLIES SUCK

    Posted 20 Jun 2012 at 2:19 pm