Men Who Harrased Bicyclist On Her Commute Home ‘Severely Warned’

300626853_e11beec975.jpgFlickr photo: Richard Masoner

A San Francisco police inspector has "severely warned" two men who allegedly harassed a bicyclist in the bike lane along the Embarcadero last week. The terrifying tale, which we published verbatim on Streetsblog, stirred quite a reaction among new and regular commenters, and served as an important reminder about what to do when bicyclists encounter hostile, threatening motorists.

The woman is a local social worker who was commuting home on her bike. She wrote that the two unidentified men, who were in a silver BMW, shouted death threats and racial epithets, and tried to frighten her by swerving in and out of the bike lane. The car’s license plate, and this no joke, read "BYE GIRL."

"I’ve been harassed many times as a bicyclist in San Francisco. Most of the times for no reason at all. However, this time they went way too far. Yelling at me once is fine. Following me in their car, driving into the bike lane, yelling racial epithets, and wishing death upon me is not fine," she wrote.

Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, an SFPD spokesperson, said the bicyclist chose not to pursue charges but that an inspector "did call both men, and they were severely warned, which is what the victim wanted." The allegations could have potentially warranted hate crime and vehicular assault charges. Tomioka said an assistant district attorney did review the case and decided against a filing.

She added: "If you could put out how important getting the license plate number is in any incident, I would appreciate it."

In a follow-up email to Streetsblog, the bicyclist, who we’ve chosen not to identify, explained her decision not to pursue charges:

I’m trying to be a better person in this case and hope that these two men learn from this experience. Also I date a criminal defense attorney who walked me through all the possible outcomes if I did pursue criminal charges. And personally (and as a social worker) I really believe in preventive measures and educating people rather then the "putting people in jail" approach. I guess after thinking it all through, I am satisfied with my decision and the outcome. I hope that people can learn to respect all people on the roads/streets.

  • ZA

    I’m pleased there was rapid resolution to the satisfaction of the cyclist. On the other hand, the law and its even enforcement cannot evolve without test cases. Keep reporting incidents when you see them, we’ll change the culture one way or the other.

  • patrick

    Thanks streetsblog for posting the update to this story. It is good to hear the police found the perpetrators. I certainly understand the victim’s choice not to pursue charges.

  • Thank you, SFPD. I think a visit by the police, a stern warning, and a reminder that one’s behavior will be watched in the future can indeed by an effective deterrent.

  • Nick

    In this case and in the hit-and-run on Valencia, do you suppose the perpetrators were following the story on this site as the police were actively looking for them?

    Is the failure to surrender to the police any cause for added penalites? I would have prosecuted them personally.

  • “The allegations could have potentially warranted hate crime and vehicular assault charges.”

    Those charges are appropriate in some cases, but judging from the result here, I think we also need a lesser charge of harassing bicyclists or pedestrians, whose only penalty would be suspension of your driving license for, say, five years.

    The victim may be right about not wanting to put these jerks in jail, but we should be able to suspend their licenses to prevent them from doing the same thing to other victims in the future.

  • Eric

    While it’s the cyclists choice to not press charges, a stern warning from the police isn’t going to make this driver change their behavior. If I were the cyclist the only “preventive measure” I would consider would be to file charges, all she has done is put the driver back on the street so he can victimize another cyclist.

  • Sasha

    I’m really happy this cyclist got a resolution from this situation that she’s comfortable with.
    Working close to the justice system myself, I agree with favoring education rather than punitive measures.
    A lot of the comments on this post so far seem based on the notion that it’s impossible for people to learn from a mistake, or to come to understand another person’s point of view and change their behavior. I think creating the kind of world I want to live in — which includes people sharing the road with me as a cyclist — is going to require putting away the handcuffs and doing a lot more listening and explaining.

  • “…shouted death threats and racial epithets, and tried to frighten her by swerving…”

    This also happens to us pedestrians way too often. Like, seriously, way too often. It’s pretty typical, though inexcusable, in any big city.

  • Ryan

    It was suggested, either here or some place else, that the victim could file a complaint with the DMV — did she file a complaint? Does one need to press charges in order for the DMV to take action?

  • Choose not to say

    I’m not a bicyclist, but I drive a vehicle with some minor body damage on it. In Concord and Walnut Creek, I have been approached twice at two different times by one of those mobile dent repair companies. The supposed owner of the company is a real jerk. He has yelled at me calling me a liar when I tell him the vehicle doesn’t belong to me. He drives around grocery store parking lots looking for people driving vehicles with damage that he may be able to repair. That’s how he finds his customers.

    I’m a female and I didn’t wish to be bothered by someone in a parking lot of a grocery store. This mobile dent repair guy won’t offer a business card, won’t take no for an answer and has yelled at me twice. So, I’m pretty sure he treats anyone like that who tells him they are not interested. He drives a 4 door-sedan with a child in the back seat.

    My stupidity for not taking down his license plate when I had the unfortunate experience of meeting him. Next time I will.

  • Anonymous

    So, did they also cite the cyclist for admittedly running the red light or do laws not apply to those on two wheels?

  • Diane

    OK, so I’m paranoid, but if I were this cyclist I’d be worried about cycling the same route at the same time in the future, in case they decide to hunt her down and “give her what for”…

  • Jerson K.

    Looking forward to many more pitchfork-and-torch-bearing-mob rallying emails reproduced on your site from solitary people presenting a one-sided version of events with no other verification.
    Why consider that there may have been another side to this story for even a moment? She was on a bike, which I guess makes her story unimpeachable.

  • Nick

    And just what would the other side of the story sound like? The person admitting to being a racist, sexist, a-hole with no respect for basic human dignity?

  • Jerson

    Being the sort of person who is incurious and uninterested in any viewpoint apart from the first one presented to you, you have a lot of company in the comments sections of these posts. Plus you get to feel righteous!

  • Aaron B.

    @Anonymous:

    While the current laws do prohibit bikes from crossing red lights, it doesn’t mean it makes sense. Bikes and cars are not the same at all – bicyclists are hardly endangering anyone but themselves, and traffic lights were made for the taming of the multi-ton death machines that are automobile traffic. If a bicyclist can clearly see there is no cross-traffic approaching, there is no good reason for them to have to continue to wait for the green. Bikes are very maneuverable and have a very short stopping distance, as well. If anything, it is in a cyclist’s best safety interest to get ahead and away from the traffic.

    That being said, I don’t have to explain why this bicyclist passing a red light is not even remotely comparable with what the occupants of that vehicle were doing.

  • Jerson, I read an article about a burglary in my local newspaper. Oddly enough, the newspaper only presented one side of the story: it blamed the burgler. How could they possible be so self-righteous, incurious, uninterested in any viewpoint apart from the first one presented to them.

    That newspaper was just like a pitchfork-bearing mob. Remember that writing about a crime and saying is should be punished by the law is absolutely no different from being a vigilante and acting violently outside of the law.

  • patrick

    @Anon

    Interesting, no action was taken against the perpetrators of the crime, nothing more than a stern warning, and yet you want the cyclist, who’s action was orders magnitude less serious than those of the driver and passenger, to be given a ticket.

    How balanced and fair of you.

  • the greasybear

    One of these things is not like the other:

    *A cyclist informs us she ran a red light
    *The authorities warn a motorist and his accomplice regarding their hate crimes and assault upon a cyclist

    Now, our Rob Anderson accolytes here insist we ignore the motor-criminals’ behavior, and focus instead on blaming the victim. It’s the same pattern–the cyclist is always uniquely naughty, and the motorist? Blameless like the baby Jesus.

    In order to retain their violent and bloody domination of our shared public roadways, fanatic motorists continue to justify bullying cyclists, up to and including death threats and assaults like against this cyclist here. “She deserved it! She had it coming!” That is the bad logic being used to prop up bad behavior that itself is intended to extend bad street design and bad traffic management.

  • Jerson

    Charles Siegel-
    Why not provide a link to the burglary article, so everyone can understand what you mean? Unless it was sort of a hypothetical article, that you didn’t actually read.

    “writing about a crime and saying is should be punished by the law”
    -A crime has to be proven in court to have been committed for a perpetrator to be punished. Unless you are a vigilante. Like this one from the first article: “If I ever come across BYE GIRL, it’ll sport multiple dents, broken mirrors and if doable, broken windows & windshield. That I promise. September 16, 2009 at 7:02 pmLink”

    “That newspaper was just like a pitchfork-bearing mob.”
    -Sorry this confused you. You and some of the other commenters are the potential pitchfork-mob. Not your newspaper, (which one was that again?) and not this blog.

    Also, re: your comment on the other post (September 17, 2009 at 10:05 am) advocating a “law against motorists threatening or harassing bicyclists.” – Good news for you: there are already laws making it a crime to threaten or harass any person, whether they are on a bike or not, and they are enforced by the police and courts.

    My thought regarding this story was simply that it might have been better corroborated or researched before it was posted in front of people thirsting for violent retribution against their enemies: cars and the people who drive them.

    One hopes that your book, which has an interesting premise, is better thought out than your comment would suggest.

  • patrick

    @Jerson

    I wonder why you only picked one small portion of the responses to form your conclusion, here are a few other perspectives that were also presented in the thread:

    “If the bicyclist had purposefully ran her bicycle straight into the BMW out of malice, then she would have deserved to be yelled at. As it is, civility is important, whether it be on a message board or on our city streets.”

    “Chill. If you see that car, report it to the police. That’ll do *all of us* a lot better”

    “1. Bicyclists should not be threatened or harassed by motorists.
    2. Bicyclists should stop at red lights and follow traffic rules, as they are considered vehicles too.”

  • When discussions boil down to cyclists violating road rules, as these discussions often do, it pays to keep in mind there are two types of traffic violations.

    The first type is when it actually causes harm. Some cyclists steal right of way at four-way stop signs, or ride too close to crossing pedestrians, or ride on crowded footpaths. It’s the equivalent to the motorist mentioned in this article (but perhaps less dangerous), or motorists who park in bike lanes and bus stops, or motorists who tailgate, or pedestrians that wander into moving traffic and expect it to stop. This kind of behaviour pisses me off, whether I’m in a car, on a bike, or on foot.

    The second type of violation is harmless, such as a cyclist not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign but still seeing it’s clear, a motorist doing the same thing, a cyclist proceeding against a red light when there’s no traffic, a pedestrian doing the same thing, or a motorist doing 70MPH in a 65 zone under good conditions. Most cyclists, motorists and pedestrians do these things, and I think that’s perfectly acceptable. (Besides, when I first started commuting by bike, I *did* wait for red lights, and motorists would still abuse me because they didn’t want to wait for their right turns.)

    I often see discussions like this, where people try to justify harmful behaviour by saying the other was violating the law, when it was in fact a harmless violation. Somebody else then usually suggests that nobody should be breaking the law, although I’m sure they themselves still break it—do they always come to absolute complete stops at stop signs, *and* never exceed 25MPH speed limits, even in places like Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, *and* always signal their turns? I doubt it.

    So I think it’s more realistic for people to just realise there are the two types of law violations, and not get so worked up if they see somebody break the law without it harming anyone. In other words: everyone, chill out.

  • Jerson

    @patrick:
    Why does a doctor only focus on the parts of your body with cancer?
    Why, when presented with a large pack of dogs would a person focus only on the snarling vicious one?
    I wonder how the fact that not everyone advocated violence based on this one-sided account, lessened your concerns regarding those who did.

    kylek
    well, if anyone reading this runs across a dark silver BMW with the license plate BYE GIRL, you might want to get creative with your keys, a can of spray paint, or the heavy end of your bike lock… and then report it to the authorities of course.
    September 16, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    francis
    @ Kylek
    For sure, if memory serves a BMW m3 uses 17mm lug-nuts and second hand metric spin-tights are cheap and available. Remember folks, get the rear wheels – you wouldn’t want to hurt anyone – just the car.
    September 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    the greasybear
    Each individual must decide for him/herself how to handle attacks by criminal motorists. Yet cyclists must never gain a reputation for being uniquely unwilling to defend ourselves, lest we induce otherwise timid motorists to attack us in the firm belief no price shall ever be paid for crimes which never, apparently, are prosecuted by SF authorities.
    September 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    NoeValleyJim
    I would probably carry heat, but it weighs too much. Would it be considered self defense if you shot someone who was trying to run you off the road?
    September 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm

  • Jerson

    Ivo
    Is the story corroborated? Otherwise this forum can be misused by anyone who publishes a license plate with a compelling story.
    September 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

  • Dan

    i think as cyclists we can all learn something here. Running reds and stop signs REALLY PISSES people in cars off. Granted, the two nut cases in this incident are an extreme case but is it worth it to save a few seconds? If you’re in some remote neighborhood with little/no traffic then do what you’re going to do but don’t do this on a busy crowded street with a ton of commuters who already hate sharing the road with us. You’re just rubbing their noses in it by doing this. We’re part of the SF community and we have to get along.

  • patrick

    @jerson

    If you were really concerned about people making meaningless and idle threats on a message board, you would be focusing on responding to those people, instead you are attempting to insult everybody on this board. You also imply that these sorts of idle threats only happen on this board, which is false, as you well know. Even some of the quotes you just posted have nothing inherently wrong with them, it is purely your assumptions on the meaning. For example, the quote from greasybear advocated no violence, just the willingness to defend oneself when attacked. Self defense can take many forms, not all of a violent nature. On the other hand, the one by NoeValleyJim was obviously over the line, as some others had already pointed out. You might also have made a comment about the threats made by the drivers against the biker, which was the start of the entire thread.

    I’m just pointing out your bias.

  • Jerson

    @patrick:
    You’re confusing a point of view you don’t approve of with a bias. Like a pulse, everyone has a point of view. Or they are not alive. I’m pretty sure anyone who read my comments perceived my “bias” right away, but if not they must be grateful for your service.
    You claimed I “picked one small portion of the responses” and I gave you several more.
    Now I have a “bias” because I didn’t comment on a particular aspect of the original article that you find important. I thought the original article did a good job of addressing the original article, so I skipped that.
    Your suggestions for how I ought to formulate my opinions are boring and make no sense.

  • patrick

    @jerson

    yes, you have a point of view. It is biased, but you are correct, it is a point of view.

  • KenO

    I wonder if Jerson is the BMW driver? haha.

  • Mike

    @KenO

    Seemed rather defensive on the subject, didn’t he? lol. Compelling story none the less. And a rather radical ending. You’d think a bicyclist would love to put those people in jail. Especially for something those two men probably do on a daily basis.

  • Mike

    I meant to add I thought Patrick was the driver though lol.

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