Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies

By Alex Thompson

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)”:

Bike Thief vs Street Justis from triple on Vimeo.

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.

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13 Responses to “Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies”

  1. I had my laptop stolen recently. I felt violated. For the first few days I was impossibly angry. I cooled down when I realized there are a lot worse things that could happen to me, and by having a laptop to steal I was already in a better place than a lot of people.

    In the beginning of summer there were a lot of break-ins in Venice. A few of my friends talked about getting guns. I want one for zombies(IT WILL HAPPEN) but I can’t imagine ever hurting someone else over a TV or Bike or even a laptop full of personal information. It’s just stuff.

    I couldn’t even imagine the conversation.

    Officer:”So described what happened”

    ME:”He tried to take my stuff so I shot him in the face.”

  2. Great post – glad to hear you speak out on this issue.

  3. There was a Romanian ruler by the name of Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler) back in the day that learned a few things while held in captivity by the Ottoman empire. One thing he brought back home is the idea to impale thieves and leave them on display for others to see what happens when you resort to thievery. Due to his notoriety, legend has it that you could leave a bag of gold at a crossroads in the forest, and nobody dared to take it because they knew the potential consequences.

    I’m not saying it’s a good solution, I’m just saying that it worked relatively well.

    I encounter victims of bike theft on a weekly basis. Just the other day I was at the beach and when walked towards the bike rack on the beach path, a lady was sobbing because someone had cut her cable lock in the span of 20 minutes. She was parked right next to me, I had a U-lock on my bike through the rear triangle.

    It shouldn’t matter if your bike was a beater or a nice bike, it doesn’t matter if you used a ulock or cable lock. That’s fucked up that’s it’s coming down to securing your property better than the next person’s in order to avoid being victimized.

  4. “The reality is they stole your bike because you didn’t secure it properly…”

    I can’t disagree more. The reality is that the thief is a sociopath without any remorse or respect for other people’s property. They need to be taught a lesson. And they need to be made an example of. If not violence, then at least some semblance of enforcement of the law. In numerous web searches, I can’t find a single story about the prosecution of bike thieves. I’m assuming they simply get off with a slap on the wrist…

    Obviously, my bike was stolen recently. I normally consider myself a centrist democrat, but this weekend I’m a Texas Republican. Hang ‘em all, I say. And I think this guy in the video got exactly what he deserved.

  5. UPDATE: I found my stolen bike posted on Craigslist. I reported it to the LAPD. They set up a sting. A week later, I’m picking up my bike at the LAPD Property Dept. Amazing. The seller was arrested. He was armed with a 357. If you ever see your bike on Craigslist, don’t even think of getting it yourself.

  6. please read this, i know its long but i would really appreciate it if you all heard my story (it will be worth it)

    On the last crank mob, my friends decided to ride home to the westside from the first warehouse. Obviously this isn’t the safest idea in the world but none of us on the ride knew how unsafe it would be. I drove home with two other friends because we parked a car downtown so we could drive back safely. Unfortunately, our other friends weren’t able to fit their bikes on the rack nor in the car. On their way home, 4 guys started taunting my friends (2 boys and one girl between the ages of 16-18) saying that they were going to take their bikes. Both boys were chased and one was hit on the head with a club or some type of bat but kept riding because he was wearing a helmet (it really is helpful to wear one). What they didn’t know until they rode back for the girl, was that she was pushed off her bike. when riding back, one of the boys could hear the same sound of a wooden bat hitting a baseball really hard, it turned out to be the contact of her face and a golf club. they hit her because when they demanded for money, she didn’t have any so they attacked her anyway. they ended up fracturing her eye socket, breaking her nose, and her jaw. when one of the boys yelled, the thieves stole the girls iphone and got into a car and drove away. my friends as well as their parents are traumatized by this experience, they said it was like a pig was slaughtered because there was so much blood on the street and the bike (so much that the dad’s car smelled like blood for days when bringing it home while the girl was in the hospital). i visited my friend and could barely recognize her, her face swelled so much that it looked like she had someone elses face as a mask and i could faintly hear her voice through her broken and swollen unmoving mouth, that was the worst for me. the bike thieves never took the bikes but this is how it all started. fortunately, the thieves have been caught and found guilty due to a repeated pattern in the area.

    this isn’t my best writing because i wanted to do it quick and is probably confusing so please reply and i’ll try to clarify things

    i hope this serves as useful warning of the dangers bike thieves can cause

  7. The police take bike theft as seriously as they do when a driver deliberately hits a cyclist. Even if catch a thief in the act the police will not come out arrest him and the sentence will be slap on the wrist at best.

    Take a good hard look in the first second of the in the center of the frame in the bottom. That is a battery powered drill on the ground, the thief’s. What they should have done is locked the thief to a post and then called the cops to pick him up. However in the heat of the moment what you saw was bound to happen. No blood, no broken bones, just a couple of punches. The theif got what he deserved.

  8. This was a great post Alex. People are really hurting right now, I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s just people are in very bad positions right now. Thanks for reminding us that there is more to our existence and than just our existence.

  9. You wrote “You’ve got no experience setting up stings, and the thief has experience stealing bikes.” But you also wrote “What you’re going to find out is that your thief is skinny teenager, or a drug addict, or homeless.” I think these characterizations are a bit inconsistent; the guy who stole your bike was both a seasoned professional, and an ad hoc nobody.

    Violence is immoral and illegal. There’s no question about that, at least for 99.9999 % of people. I think many people, right after having their transportation stolen, say a lot of things they don’t actually mean. It’s a way people deal with anger. And things have come a long way since it was routine to hang horse thieves … sometimes for public entertainment.

    On the other hand, when you write “The reality is they stole your bike because you didn’t secure it properly…” that comes off as condescending, and as casting all the blame on the victim. No matter how stupid a person is for using the wrong lock to improperly secure their worthless bike, it’s still a crime to take the bike without that person’s permission.

  10. Forrest,

    Digging up old posts, eh?

    I mostly agree with you here. I’m not trying to put all the blame on the victim, but I do support people making the effort to lock up right.

    But condescending? Oh, I’m totally being condescending, and it’s intentional. The tone here is one of talking to a child, and that’s because that’s how one is acting when they fantasize about vigilante actions against bike thieves. It’s not an intelligent or thought out approach to addressing the issue. And so I am taking a condescending tone, and the bit about not locking up properly is part of that. One can’t very well talk about setting up vigilante actions self righteously when one didn’t even bother to lock up well.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] Alex asks if you’ve considered the consequences before giving that bike thief a beat down. GT shares the story and photos of his recent Eastern [...]

  2. Trying to reason with bicycle theft season « BikingInLA - October 2nd, 2009

    [...] Of course, this sort of thing tends to bring out the worst in people, understandable though that may be. Personally, though, I prefer prevention to retaliation. [...]

  3. Streetsblog Los Angeles » Bike Thefts Becoming a Growing Problem in Los Angeles. What Can Be Done? - November 23rd, 2009

    [...] BikeSIDE’s Alex Thompson describes why in two posts from September of this year entitled, "Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies," and "Bike thief arrested, was carrying a .357." Turns out the bike thief in this story [...]

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