Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies
If you’ve got your ear to the ground in the bike community then you know that a lot of people have had their bikes stolen. You also might have noticed some people talking about vigilante actions. Cyclists have been talking about organizing police stings, hunting down bike thieves, tying them up, and beating them up. “Let’s make an example of them” is the prevailing attitude. A close friend of mine keeps calling me with proposals for a sting.
You are stupid. You, as in you people talking about physical violence. You, as in the people who have elevated the actual physical bicycle so that it is now a sacred thing. “HOW DARE YOU STEAL MY BICYCLE?!!” thunders righteously across the internet.
Here’s a video of – as the video describes – a “bike thief vs street justis (sic)”:
I don’t see anything admirable going on here. I see a guy getting beat up and scared shitless – one who allegedly stole a bike. He’s obviously terrified, and we don’t know if he gets injured.
At what point did the loss, or near loss, of a $500, $1000, or $2000 bike entitle you to scare the shit out of someone? Or hurt them? I had a clumsly low speed crash 2 1/2 years ago, broke a bunch of teeth, jacked up my lip and cracked my thumb, and it cost $7000 and a years worth of dental work to fix that. It sucked, and it was traumatic, and the damage far exceeded the value of any bike not in the Tour De France peloton. Inflicting costly bodily harm is very easy. Suppose you hit them the wrong way and they end up with a brain injury, or a broken arm, or a broken neck? The injury you can potentially cause a thief in a street fight, or by chasing them down and tying them up, as some have suggested, can far far far exceed the value of your bike.
Moreover, it’s irrational. If you catch a bike thief and you beat the shit out of them, you can no longer turn them in. If you do, you’ll be brought up on assault charges. If you catch them and detain them, instead of beating them up, you’ve caught a thief, and potentially you’ve got a shot at catching any collaborators.
Here’s the rub – you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve got no experience setting up stings, and the thief has experience stealing bikes. There’s a good chance that your lack of experience will just turn out to be embarrassing for you. On the other hand, there’s a chance that a confrontation will ensue, and someone could get hurt. Your bike just isn’t worth that.
Wait! Maybe you’ll catch a thief, and then uncover the ring which is responsible for all these bike thefts! No, that’s not gonna happen. What you’re going to find out is that your thief is skinny teenager, or a drug addict, or homeless. They’re fencing your bikes on Craigslist, or at garage sales, or on Lincoln Blvd, or to pawn shops. They’re not part of some international bike cartel, they’re not stealing your bike out of personal malice toward you, they’re just part of the 11.9% of Californians who are unemployed.
A friend of mine stole cars when he was a teenager. He got caught, got a lot of probation, and now he’s one of the hardest working, biggest contributors to society that I know. If he was stealing bikes in LA today, maybe he’d be the victim of a sting, get trounced by a gang of vigilantes, and be on a feeding tube instead of making a difference. I don’t know why he stole cars, but I know that I was glad to know him, he helped me out several times, and I’m even gladder that he can take part in society and make a difference, which he does on a regular basis.
Fact is, all this talk of vigilante action amounts to a whole lot of impatience and frustration from hotheads. As a hothead myself, I’m not very impressed. If you bend that violent impulse away from violence and toward lobbying police and policymakers to take bike theft and secure bike parking more seriously, we’d all be better off. But heck, that would be difficult. That would take patience, planning, and follow through. Following suspected bike thieves around and plotting vigilante action – that’s something that can be accomplished by impulsive, undisciplined and unimaginative action.
The reality is they stole your bike because you didn’t secure it properly. Of all the stolen bikes I know of except one, they were locked up with laughably thin cable lock, or locked improperly, or left in a sideyard unlocked, or left elsewhere unlocked. The one exception – the cyclist locked up their bike properly with a U-lock, but they left it on a university bike rack overnight.
This is Los Angeles – it’s the big city and it’s a hard knock life. If you can’t take the occasional hard knock of having your bike jacked and then walk tall, keep your cool, and respond with dignity, then you don’t belong here. If your bike isn’t in a locked room, or locked up with a U-lock, there’s a good chance your bike could get stolen. Lock up properly. And don’t tell me that your bike is more important to you than the $700 replacement cost. That’s no excuse for beating people up – no one’s proposing ass whoopings for laptop thieves, but laptops at least have irreplaceable data on them. What about your bike is irreplaceable? What about stealing it justifies physical violence?
I’ll say this – if any vigilante action goes down, I’ll discuss with the police the names of the people who have proposed these things.