Why Are Threats Against Bike Riders Considered Acceptable?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Sustainable Savannah asks the question,
"When is it socially acceptable to threaten the lives of innocent people?" The answer, apparently, is this: "When they are riding bicycles."

The post comes in response to a comment on the website of the city’s major newspaper, the Savannah Morning News. Sustainable Savannah’s John Bennett writes:

bikelanewithmoss.jpgPhoto: Sustainable Savannah

[I]t appears at least one person in this "wonderfully
hospitable and gracious city" feels comfortable boasting about his or
her willingness to murder innocent people. From the Vox Populi section of the Savannah Morning News on Dec. 2:

"Please tell all these wannabe Lance Armstrongs to get
on the streets with bike paths. One of these days they are going to
pull out in front of someone, mainly me, and, ‘adios.’"

Well, at least this person said, "please." It’s interesting that
threatening the lives of cyclists, at least anonymously, is socially
acceptable. Socially acceptable enough not only for a person to send
this to the Savannah Morning News, but also socially acceptable enough
to win the approval of the paper’s editors.

As a matter of fact, the comment in question seems to clearly violate the paper’s terms of service agreement, which requires users to agree not to post content "that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing" — unless, apparently, the threat is made with a motor vehicle and the target is a person riding a bicycle.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

More good stuff from a very busy day around the network: Riding in Riverside wonders why we can’t build truly public infrastructure any longer. Dotage St. Louis muses on the city’s culture of destruction. And bikePHL provides a primer on the most common types of car-bicycle crashes — and how to avoid them.

  • j

    While I agree that making violent and threatening comments about people on bicycles is (disturbingly) socially accepted, I don’t know if that particular comment on that particular site is such great evidence. For one thing, the comment is a little ambiguous about intent. Also, the comments on the “vox populi” section also contain very disturbing explicitly racist and sexist comments.

  • crhilton

    j,

    That’s why you can’t make decent law about that sort of thing. We all know what he’s saying, but human speech can easily have a double meaning where listeners get one intent but a legalistic analysis can’t prove that intent.

    I don’t think there’s anything useful you can do about this. You certainly can’t enforce law here: It’s the internet, you need to be over 18 to read it ;). We could cry about it, but that’s just going to reinforce it. We could ignore it, but it probably reinforces itself.

    I _try_ to ignore those comments and hope that there are enough human beings reading to realize that thinly veiled threats don’t mark the side you want to be on.

  • Good editors print letters that are representative of community attitudes. Sometimes these attitudes are over the line, and need to be exposed. The Dan Hersh case in Virginia Beach was a perfect example. The hatefulness toward cyclists expressed there became a call to action as much as the failure to prosecute the at-fault motorist.

    But in today’s web-centric world, the rewards for inflammatory or controversial content are greater than ever. Push people’s buttons, or allow others to do it, and watch the clicks roll in. Unfortunately, this will probably get worse before it gets better.

    Bike advocates need to diffuse this kind of conversation, before it gets out of control, Submit your own comments before the wackos have their say, and never let them go unrebutted.

  • guez

    No no no. Rebutting these people is counterproductive. Do not–I repeat DO NOT–feed the troll!

  • John

    It’s how drivers communicate. When all you’ve got to work with is a deadly metal box, all you wind up saying to the people around you while you drive are deadly metal box things. They say the same things about each other, depending on relative threat level. The bigger the vehicle, the greater the transportation population you can bully. Everything a driver does is done with deadly force. Picking up a gallon of milk? With deadly force.

    Try this:
    Sit in the passenger seat of a full size pickup when a subcompact pulls into traffic with little room to spare. What does the pickup driver mutter about what his big truck would do to the little car?

    Same scenario, replace the subcompact with a tractor-trailer. Suddenly your pickup driver is muttering ethical, altruistic-sounding things, right?

    It’s not an easy conversation to have with drivers. They’re speaking with deadly force to begin with. And when ethics enters the debate; well, driving on streets alongside kids and adults and pets and whatever else that don’t share in the benefit, but pay the majority of the cost; is clearly not ethical. Talking ethics in the context of driving calls the very act into question.

  • Pat

    “Talking ethics in the context of driving calls the very act into question.”

    John, you hit it right on the head. There is so much that is inherently wrong about driving that questioning it in any way brings up all kinds of things. Things the driving addicted very much *do not* want to talk about.

  • jenn

    Comments like that are one key reason that I moved from Savannah to Portland Oregon a few years ago. Finally, here in Oregon I can commute to work everyday on my bike using the same roads that cars drive with less personal threats to my safety. True, I’m not saying that riding bikes in Portland is safer (even though it is)… but we have less people making death threats to us ahead of time. When someone almost hits you here… they say “i’m sorry” not… “well, you’re lucky you’re still alive cause I was aiming for you”.

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