My point exactly

By Alex Thompson

I took the post I wrote yesterday about the idiocy of vigilante actions against bike thieves, and I posted it on Midnight Ridazz.  I knew I’d get very little love, but since that was the group I most wanted to reach, it made sense to do it.  Feetpower, an anonymous poster laid it down:

im pretty sure people are still willing to fight and defend what is legally theirs no matter what it is bike, laptop, ipod, etc…. its not about how much its worth, its about he principle.

if a bike thief gets caught and turned into police, how much time you think he’ll get? probably not a lot. chances are that the thief will still again and improve his technique so he won’t get caught. if we start beating down thieves it’ll make them scared to do it again. beat them to a pulp, they will NEVER steal again. well… they’ll probably target some easy area if they did their homework.

but seriously, thieves need something to be scared about and a hardcore beat down is the key. police aren’t doing anything about it. you really think they give a shit about bike theft? when there’s drug rings and gang violence to worry about, its last on their list.

death to bike thieves! (don’t quote me on that lol)

Don’t quote you on that?

This is the logic of violence which is prevalent in the bike community presently. In reading through the negative responses to my post, my first reaction is shock.  Shock, because in a group that is supposed to be non-elitist, and which is composed primarily of middle class and lower class people, personal property (bicycles) is elevated above human life and physical health.  Violence is supported as an effective and reasonable first approach.

No wonder we are blighted by insane spending on our military.  No wonder we don’t have nationalized healthcare in this country.  People have their values all screwed up.  Money and bikes and cars and boats and air conditioners and trips to Tahiti are more important to us than physicals and cancer treatment and AIDs cocktails and preventative medicine.  It reminds me of this great article I read yesterday in the New Republic (hat tip to David Pulsipher) regarding Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideology, and it’s influence on the worldview of the right wing.

A random and out of place thought – bike thieves and pickpockets have something in common.  They both avoid conflict.  If they were the violent type, and unafraid of conflict, they’d be mugging people, or robbing liquor stores.

My dad was, some years ago, at the bakery getting some donuts.  He sets his wallet on the counter, which I imagine he does with an unconscious sense of relief because he has one of those wallets that looks like it’s got a library in there – it’s about 3 inches thick with business cards, receipts, and notes.  After he talks with his cashier for a moment he looks back at a man who is in line behind him.  He’s just glancing about, but he notices that the wallet in the man’s hands is a lot like his.  And then he looks at the counter and his wallet is gone.

So he turns around and says to the man, in a normal tone of voice, “that’s my wallet.”  The guy says, “no it’s not”, and my dad says “yes it is.”  “I put it on the counter here, and you picked it up.”  The guys says “no, you’re mistaken.”  My dad, stubborn guy, says “would you open it and show me your drivers license” and the guy makes a show of doing it, but returns the wallet quickly, without apology.  The inept thief stands in line for a second, then leaves the bakery.  When confronted, the thief tried deflection, but when that was impossible, he backed down.

I wrote my post condemning vigilante actions against bike thieves, but the possibility that keeps getting raised is catching a bike thief in the act.  It’s unlikely, but as that video showed, it does happen.  Even in that case, I think most of the time violence will do nothing.  Usually, if you catch a thief in the act, they’re going to run like hell.  As I mentioned above, they’re not the sort of criminal who is comfortable with confrontation.

Suppose they don’t run?  Suppose when you confront them they stand their ground.  Well, now your first concern should be what will happen if you escalate, and your second concern should be retrieving bicycle.  By standing their ground they have indicated that they are not terrified of you.  Even if you outweigh them, or if you outnumber them, they may have reason to believe that they are in a safer position.  They may be armed, or they might be an experienced street fighter.  If you escalate the situation you may find that your efforts to retrieve your bike will end with you in intensive care, or worse.

In that situation, I can think of two non-violent responses that make more sense.  One is, if you feel sufficiently threatened, back down and contact the police.  However, if you think it is safe, you could place your hands on the bike.  Don’t threaten the bike thief personally, just claim the bike with your hands.  And ask bystanders to call the police, or call them with one hand, and claim the bike with the other.  It is incredibly hard to pry a bike out of anyone’s hands, but if they try, you can become like the 2 year old throwing a tantrum.  Go limp and drag the bike to the ground with your body.  Wrap your legs around it.  By being non violent but claiming the bike, you make it hard for them to cope.  In order to get the bike they have to take it to the next level.  Years of non violent protest has shown that it’s hard for an aggressor to start a fight with you if you don’t help start it with them.

You’ll look idiotic, and it might be humiliating, but you could very well keep your bike.  And, if the thief escalates, you can always back down.  Like confronting anyone who doesn’t immediately back down, it’s a risky move, but it stands less risk of violence than immediately becoming violent.

You can read the Ridazz post in question here.

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4 Responses to “My point exactly”

  1. No bike is worth a life. And is it really worth what you are willing to become to keep it?

    I hate thieves of every kind. But the police exist for a reason; let them do their jobs. And if they won’t do it, it’s up to us to put enough pressure on them to make them do it.

  2. You do bring up some well-thought out points, mainly the possibility that the situation escalates to physical harm of either party. Every situation can be handled accordingly, there are different types of thieves out there. It would be great if police responded to every emergency call you made, but that’s sometimes not the case. I would say at least keep your local police department’s number handy, and if you think you’re physically able to detain the suspect, then it’s your call.

    Some thieves work solo, and are the opportunistic types that need to get money quick. Some, especially in Santa Monica have to be better organized, because way too many bikes get cleaned out every weekend, with methodical precision.

    I’d like every rider out there to be aware, and take some time even when they’re strolling through the city and think to themselves, “where is this person going”, “do they look like they are wandering or riding in an unexpected pattern”, or “why does that truck have a whole bunch of different types of bikes in it”. Keep an eye out for backpacks or sling bags, people that ride erratically between bike racks looking for something they can cut. Abbot Kinney, Main St, and the beach path gets hit up more often than any of us can imagine.

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful words and consistency. Punishing lawbreakers by breaking the law just promotes chaos and is irrational.

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