Blaming the cyclist, once again. Thanks, hegemony!

Well, here we go again. Another story about a dead cyclist, another round of victim blaming.

Just over a month ago, I posted a critique of local news coverage about a drunk driver who killed a bike commuter. I argued that the news media took pains to affirm that the dead cyclist did not deserve to die by reporting that he was “careful” and wore protective equipment (lights and helmet). Headlines such as “Bicyclist fatally run over was new to Minneapolis, careful about bike safety” reminded some readers of the problematic rhetoric that media use when discussing sexual assault: “Woman raped was new to Minneapolis, careful about sexual assault.”

A victim of violence and their precautionary behavior is not relevant to these stories. What is relevant is the violence. By reaffirming that these victims were attempting to be “safe,” it then creates a dichotomy to those who are not “safe.” If a victim was not attempting to be safe, then how will their situation be read? And at the very least, who gets to define what is “safe”?

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He is dead: it doesn’t matter that he was a “careful” bicyclist

Tragically here in Minneapolis this week, a drunk driver killed a bicyclist named Marcus Nalls. The site of the crash was on Franklin Ave.–one of the busiest and most dangerous roads that bicyclists utilize in this city.

Like many bicyclists, I track these stories with a heavy heart. We pay our respects, feel immense rage for the drivers who kill our fellow bicyclists, and engage in a few extremely frustrating internet discussions about whether they were wearing a helmet and lights.

This time around, though, the news media is making it abundantly clear that Marcus was a safe bicyclist. One headline reads:

Bicyclist killed on Franklin Ave. Wore Helmet, Lights, Just Moved to Mpls.

Another:

Bicyclist fatally run over was new to Minneapolis, careful about bike safety

These headlines are important to notice for a few reasons.

1. Bicyclists are always on the defensive. We are often asked to “prove” that we are being safe on the road. The unspoken reasoning link is that if we are not being safe then we should expect to get hurt or killed while riding. These headlines work to prove that Marcus is a safe bicyclist. This is unnecessary because it takes away from the larger issue. That is:

2. This focus on Marcus’s approach to riding takes the focus off of the impaired man who killed Marcus. The man literally drove over Marcus with his van.  And he has now been released without charges.

3. Because Marcus is being painted as an avid cyclist who knows the rules of the road, we are being assured that he did nothing wrong in this crash. Although on the surface that seems like a laudable goal of the news stories, we should not be spending ANY time reassuring the public that Marcus did nothing wrong, because:

4. A helmet and lights will not save you when a van comes barreling at you from behind without warning. Again, it doesn’t matter. I do not care if you are a 10-year veteran of bicycle commuting or a sidewalk-riding novice out to get some smokes from the corner store. All bicycle-related deaths are equal. They are awful and avoidable.

My personal connection to this death doesn’t really matter. Like many bicyclists, I ride Franklin Ave. almost every time I ride my bike. Like many bicyclists, I ride at night. Like many bicyclists, I put my safety and life in the hands of drivers that speed past me. But, I am committed to transportation equity and so additionally I am saddened that we lost a potential bicycle advocate for the African American community here in Minneapolis.

Remember, bicyclists are not putting themselves in danger when riding. People driving vehicles are.

image: indypgh.org

rest in peace.