EDITORIAL: Bike ticketing in Tampa used for racial profiling, not safety

Based on the number of tickets issued in the past few years, Tampa seems to have a real problem with its bicyclists. Yet bicyclists likely aren’t the ones with a problem. 

According to a recent Tampa Bay Times investigation, Tampa police has given 2,504 bike tickets over the past three years, which it attributes to a commitment to safety and bike theft prevention. However, after examining the over 10,000 tickets given in the past 12 years, some officers might have a deeper issue than cyclists riding too close to the curb, as the Times found that eight out of 10 people ticketed were black. 

From bike tickets to police brutality, racial profiling by law enforcement is all too familiar to the U.S., and clearly Tampa is not immune to it.  

On an extreme level, reports of police brutality happen so often that when an Ohio officer refused to use deadly force against a murder suspect, he was commended for his “great restraint and maturity,” according to MSNBC. The American Civil Liberties Union also reported black and Hispanic people were about “three times as likely to be searched during a traffic stop” and blacks “were twice as likely to be arrested.”

As mentioned in the Times, Tampa police purposely go to “high-crime neighborhoods” to find someone with a stolen bike or drugs. One of the more ridiculous stops involved police confiscating a 54-year-old man’s bike after he wasn’t able to show a receipt to verify he owned it. 

Unless it’s normal to keep a receipt in one’s wallet next to one’s ID card, it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly the police are looking for. If it’s safety, Tampa isn’t necessarily an especially dangerous place because some cyclists were given a ticket three times in the span of a day. 

What Police Chief Jane Castor describes as a neighborhood-by-neighborhood issue is obviously an issue about assumptions based on race. 

As the Times pointed out, blacks make up about 25 percent of Tampa’s population, yet they were issued a disproportionate 79 percent of tickets. In other areas of Tampa, as the article addressed, such as Davis Islands and Bayshore Boulevard, only one cyclist from each area received a ticket last year — both of whom were black. 

Clearly Tampa police’s tactic to purposely stop as many people as possible in these “high-crime neighborhoods” is a matter of quantity, as they have given more bike tickets than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.     

Though targeting crime is the objective, that’s not what happens a majority of the time. The Times’ investigation found that a fifth of those ticketed last year were actually arrested. 

Based on the investigation, it seems the constant stopping is just an opportunity to interrogate. More than anything, this is a disappointment that fits into the country’s problem with institutional discrimination that hits close to home.